You've probably heard of or read about Meg, the machine. Typically, it either bores metro tunnels in
Victoria or churns out runs for
Victoria, Melbourne Stars, Australia… pretty much every cricket team she's part of.
But just as how advanced machinery requires fixes to ensure peak performance, Meg Lanning
, the Australia captain after whom one of the Melbourne Metro Rail's tunnel-boring machines takes its name, also requires recalibration sometimes.
On the outside, Meg the batter seems an imposing, flawless structure, built to bulldoze attacks. Her 14 ODI centuries, the most by any woman, and her second-innings average of 63.76, the best
by anyone to have batted in at least 20 chases in Women's ODIs, are among the many statistical high points that support that perception. But the 2022 World Cup has shown her technique isn't entirely watertight after all.
In four innings leading into her match-winning 97 against India on Saturday, Lanning's propensity for cutting and slashing at the slightest hint of width, usually one of her great strengths, had done her more harm than good. The cut had brought about all four of Lanning's dismissals at this World Cup before the India game, while, according to ESPNcricinfo's data, bringing her 25 runs in 22 balls.
For one of the best exponents of the cut in world cricket, and arguably the best in the women's game
, this was quite an aberration. But it didn't stop Lanning from playing the shot against India at Eden Park. India shortened their lengths in an attempt to guard against the shorter boundaries down the ground, and may eventually have ended up feeding Lanning's strong suit. The cut was her most productive shot on Saturday, bringing her 46 of her 97 runs, off just 29 balls.
Coming into the game, Lanning had puzzled over her run of dismissals off this shot.
"It's something I've thought a lot about heading into this game. Obviously, I got out sort of similarly the couple of games beforehand," Lanning said of her use of the cut. "I guess the answer is just to play it better. I've executed it pretty well tonight on the most part and then every time I sort of get a touch lazy or don't wait for it enough, I can get into trouble. But, certainly, [it's] not a shot I'm going to stop playing and it does get me a lot of runs and it's an area of strength for me.
"But I think there's always ways that you can improve and I need to make sure that I'm being clinical with that all the time because there are fields there. I can't get it through the field, but there will be fielders there if I don't quite get it right. So it's a good challenge and I'm looking forward to seeing that in the rest of the tournament."
In a Cricket Monthly interview
in 2020, Lanning spoke about a ploy that a number of teams use against her, of packing the backward point region and trying to turn her strength at the cut and the square drive into a weakness. Her response has never been to stop playing those shots.
"Often when they try to put two, three or even four fielders there, I see it as a challenge than a deterrent, which is probably to my detriment sometimes, because I keep getting fielded," she had said.
"I think it comes back to backing your strengths. I just feel if the ball is there to be hit to point, I'm going to hit it there. If I hit it well, I get it in the gap and I'll get a boundary for it. You've got to have a few other options as well, because teams have worked out pretty quick that I like to hit there. And just being able to shift it a little bit is really important. But you've got to back your strengths."
Lanning was eventually caught at point on Saturday, off a sliced drive. It was her second dismissal at that fielding position at this World Cup, and the second time she had fallen short of a well-deserved hundred. Against England, a full-blooded cut had found the fielder at point when she was on 86.
"To be honest, I just wanted to win us the game. I wasn't too worried about getting a hundred," Lanning said about falling three short of a century when Australia needed just eight off nine balls. "It would have been nice, but, yeah, I was disappointed at the end there just to add a little bit of unnecessary pressure on Moons [Beth Mooney] and Tahlia [McGrath] there."
The 86 and 97 represent Lanning's first-ever failure to convert consecutive 80-plus ODI scores into hundreds. This soon after her 93 in the Ashes Test in Canberra in January. An unusual run of scores for the batter with the best conversion rate in women's ODIs
among players with at least 20 50-plus scores. Here perhaps is another area where Meg, the run-scoring machine, could do with the tiniest recalibration.