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Ambition, planning and investment - Australia's formula for world domination

Their invincibility seemed to be wearing off in 2017, but in just five years, they have managed to scale unimaginable heights

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
What does it say about a team that fielded the same XI in only two successive matches and still romped to their seventh 50-over world title without losing a single game? Or that this side had chosen a World Cup final of all occasions to rejig their batting order to a first-of-its-kind make-up and yet ended up being in control through all the chopping and changing?
What Australia achieved throughout their title-winning 2022 ODI World Cup bull-run, rounding it off with a 71-run win against holders England, is well beyond the imagination of most teams. In a tournament that will go down as one of the most closely contested world events, Australia showed they are beyond the reach of any other team.
"That's the style of play that we wanted to go out there and play," Meg Lanning, the captain, said after Australia piled on 356, the highest total in the final of any women's world event, and defended it comprehensively. "Like, it's taking the game on, it's being brave. I think Motty [head coach Matthew Mott] said in the message earlier today to the group to be brave and go out there and get the game.
"The game is not going to come to us; it owes us nothing. We have to go out there and play it and win it. And that's what happened today. A really, really impressive thing for our team is to not get scared or fear the big stage, in big moments. We want to be part of it. And that's what really drives us."
Where Australia found themselves at on a heady Sunday night in Christchurch, kissing the silverware amid showers of champagne and confetti, was a long way off the chastening failures of 2016 and 2017, which unseated them from the limited-overs throne. West Indies beat them in the 2016 T20 World Cup final, India knocked them out in the 2017 ODI World Cup semi-final, and in the space of 15 months, their aura of invincibility had gone.
Australia embarked on a meticulous soul-searching process, most notably after the "kick up the butt" that was the 2017 World Cup exit. The process brought about a much-needed reset of team culture and set them on a five-year period of out-and-out world domination that saw them win two T20 world titles [in 2018 and 2020] and a second Women's ODI Championship [2017-21], chart a world-record 26-ODI winning run from January 2018 to October 2021, retain the Ashes, and crown their historic course-correction with the 2022 world title.
"The game is not going to come to us; it owes us nothing. We have to go out there and play it and win it. And that's what happened today"
Meg Lanning
"Just the shift in attitude and mindset to really take the game on all the time," Australia's premier allrounder Ellyse Perry, who played the final as a specialist batter after missing the previous two matches through back injury, explained. "Something that's really stood out for me this time is just the way that the group has dealt with pressure along the way.
"It hasn't all gone our way at different points in time. We've certainly been challenged, but we've always found our way through that. And I think that's a huge shift from back in 2017. And just that mentality and the poise under pressure from across the board, it's just been great."
The fact that Australia won the 2020 T20 world title at home despite Perry missing the knockouts owing to a hamstring injury, and that they had "plans Bs and Cs", as Mott put it, through this World Cup, spoke of the team's robust feeder line of talent and the big-match nous of their established campaigners. That Perry batted at No. 7 in Sunday's final, after not having slotted in below No. 6 in ODIs since 2013, or that Lanning herself came in at No. 5 for the first time in her 50-over international career, was also testament to the flexibility in their recalibrating, well-oiled line-up.
"I'm so proud of this group to be able to - I use the word reinvent, but whatever word you want to use - the way we came together as a squad and said, 'this is how we want to play cricket from now on and this is how we're going to be the best team in the world'," Alyssa Healy, whose record-breaking 170 trumped Nat Sciver's resolute 148 not out, said. "For all 15 people in our squad, and the girls outside the squad that have come in and contributed… to be able to buy into [the plan], it's been unbelievable, and I think that's a culture created by the lady sitting next to me [Lanning] and Rach [Rachael Haynes, the vice-captain] and Motty."
She stressed that "pride", and not "relief", was the best way to describe the culmination of what they had set out to achieve. "I'm just really proud of this group to have done what we've done over the last five years. And I think the trophy in our hands is sort of just the final little piece of the puzzle that needed to happen."
A big part of Australia reaffirming their stature as world leaders in the women's game is also down to Cricket Australia's unwavering commitment to investing in raising the profile of the game across the food chain in the country.
"The base and platform that we've got at domestic cricket is really strong," Lanning said. "The WBBL has played a massive role in setting players up, to come into international cricket and perform straightaway. They're under the pump in that competition, they're put in big-game situations, and that's what's required at a World Cup."
Some of the best examples of the advantages of professionalising the women's game are Haynes, wristspinner Alana King, and allrounder Tahlia McGrath.
Haynes, 35, finished the World Cup as the second-highest run-getter, with two fifties in two match-winning century stands with Healy in the knockouts. But she would have quit the sport altogether in 2016 had Cricket New South Wales not pulled her back from the brink of retirement.
Similarly, despite not playing any international cricket between November 2017 and October 2020, McGrath, now 27, had been handed a Cricket Australia contract for 2020. That move, aimed at keeping her in the frame, ended with McGrath and Perry stitching together a rapid, unbroken 25-run stand in the World Cup final; she scored 100 lower-order runs and taking five wickets overall.
King, for her part, showed how timely her international debut in January on the back of a breakout WBBL 2021-22 season had been. King, 26, followed up a memorable Ashes campaign in January-February with 12 wickets in the World Cup - the fourth-highest in this edition - and a vital three-for in the title contest.
"Alana King's been exceptional," Lanning said. "She's got a real buzz about her. She's got lots of energy and she's just come into a World Cup and performed really well. Alongside, all the other younger players as well. Darcie Brown has been great. Tahlia McGrath, who has really cemented a spot in this side over the past sort of three months, has been amazing as well.
"I've really enjoyed watching the young kids come in and play so well and make an impact straightaway. That's what I love, is they're not coming in and just being part of the team. They're coming in and making their mark and really having a positive impact on the team. That's really, really important for our team, to keep evolving and moving forward. Hopefully we can continue to see that."
In a little over three months, the women's game makes its debut at the Commonwealth Games, in what will be the second major women's cricket event in the space of 12 months, with the inaugural Under-19 World Cup and the 2023 T20 World Cup to follow in January-February.
"We certainly won't let up," Lanning said about Australia's shot at a podium finish at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. "We want to keep getting better and we've got some really good young players within our squad as well who will keep pushing us older players along and make sure that we get better as well. That's the great thing about this group: we're hungry for success. We want to keep getting better."
That sounds ominous. And unless other boards ramp up their investment in the women's cricket set-ups in their countries, there might be no stopping this Australian side's ascendancy to unimagined heights.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha