And the world stands still: Meg Lanning at 30

As she leads Australia towards the knockout stages of another World Cup, we trace the rise of a batting phenomenon, and peek behind the curtain to better understand the enigmatic national skipper

Everyone, it seems, has a favourite recollection of a young Meg Lanning. Recurring themes quickly emerge, of course, though that doesn't mean the stories aren't worth sharing. Besides, is there a better time than a 30th birthday, with the innocence of youth having officially passed and the burden of responsibility waiting, to get all nostalgic and misty-eyed?

Or perhaps in Lanning's case it's more about reflecting on her greatness. Which seems a strange thing to say about a 30-year-old. But Lanning has proven herself an exception to most rules, a batting phenomenon who entered the realms of 'greatness' at 24 and has barely paused for breath since.

And as for innocence and responsibility, well, her timelines have been skewed somewhat by her own excellence.

But for a while there, in her abbreviated youth, Meg Lanning let her hair down just like the rest of us. So say those who rode alongside her, eating Maccas in the backs of cabs after nights spent drinking blue moons.

It is a surprising image, probably because for a long time, the Meg Lanning who revealed herself to the public via the media didn't really reveal much at all. She seemed serious, focused, intense. All things professional sportspeople need to be, sure, but not a whole lot more. It was hard to be critical, but beyond her eye-popping batting feats, it was hard to be particularly interested, too.

As with most things Lanning however, it was very much by design, and a simple case of cause and effect. And as with most things in life, there is more to the story if one is willing to look.

"I think the Meg you see in the media is what so many people think she is, before really understanding what she's like underneath it all," says her long-time friend and teammate Elyse Villani.

"You know, she likes to be relaxed, and she's someone you can have a really good time with.

"And when Meg Lanning's laughing, she lights up a room."

* * *

Villani is in the mood for sharing memories, and she opts to take us way back. Before the 'Megastar' moniker, before the national captaincy, to a state debut, when the duo first united on the cricket field for Victoria.

It was January 2008. Villani was 18, Lanning 15.

"One of the first things I noticed about Meg was, she just always seemed so calm, to the point that the first time she walked out to bat for Victoria, I remember thinking: Is this chick actually going to get out there in time?" she tells

"She'd been redoing her hair, and putting her helmet on and it was like, 'Mate, are you going to go out and bat or not?' I thought she was going to get timed out.

"It was almost like, 'The world can stop for Meg Lanning – I'll take my time, and I'll get out there when I'm ready'. 

"I think time has always sort of stood still for Meg, and she's always seemed to have so much more of it than other people. And that's the way she plays as well."

A couple of seasons later the pair opened the batting in a T20 against Tasmania and were waltzing towards their 114-run target when Villani, by then part of the Australia set-up, was out for 45. Unperturbed, Lanning batted on, completing the chase with an unbeaten 52.

"I remember coming off the field and someone asked to interview me, and I thought: Yeah okay, I've gone alright, yep, I can do that.

"And all the questions were about Meg. I distinctly remember thinking: Alright, this girl's something special.

"Every single person could see just how incredibly talented she was."

Image Id: B8039FCC2C2C442D9AD4DCC422979FBA Image Caption: Old friends Lanning and Villani share a laugh during the 2019 Ashes //

And the right people were watching. Lanning, naturally, was picked as part of the first batch of young women to participate in an Under-18 talent camp at what was then the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane.

Richard McInnes, who was Australia's women's head coach at the time, had seen Lanning scoring runs for fun at a couple of national junior championships, so he wasn't completely blindsided by the teen's standout efforts at the talent camp. 

"We had a whole bunch of measures that we used – some fitness-based stuff, some skills-based stuff," recalls McInnes. "She came out on top in all of them. She just blew it away."

In the way Lanning batted, the national coach saw a technique more in keeping with many of the elite male cricketers he had watched.

"It was the same with Alyssa Healy, too, and that's not being critical of the women's game – it was about where they'd hit the ball, the range of shots they had, and how they played.

"Belinda Clark was probably one of the other ones who did that, and so (Lanning) reminded me a bit of Belinda as a player."

McInnes liked her character, too. Lanning was reserved then, as she is now, though get to know her even a little and she emerges as affable and even inquisitive. McInnes though, saw a driven, focused 18-year-old who appeared to have a strong handle on where she was heading.

"She always had this quiet air of confidence about her," he says. "Some people could probably perceive it as being a bit aloof or a bit arrogant, but it wasn't that – she just went about her business of churning out runs, and was always quite unflappable. I liked that about her."

He didn't necessarily see a leader in Lanning, as he did in other young prospects who were emerging, such as Healy and Rachael Haynes, both of whom had made their national debuts in the 12-18-month period before Lanning's.

But a century in her second ODI – which made her the youngest Australian to register three figures in an international – confirmed in McInnes' mind the generational batting talent he had on his hands.

"She peeled off a hundred against the Poms in Perth, and she just did it with ease," he says. "And even when she did that, she wasn't too fazed.

"I basically said, 'This kid's going to be something else'. And then what she did over the next few years reinforced that; the rate at which she scored, and the rate at which she scored big scores, we hadn't seen that. She just went to a different level."

Image Id: 19BF7D70AF8849EDB4550A1E4F3EE47B Image Caption: Lanning celebrates her maiden ODI hundred in January 2011 // Getty

Lanning needed just 35 ODIs to breeze past Clark's five ODI hundreds, then 16 more to race ahead of Karen Rolton with an Australian women's record ninth ODI century. For context, those two greats had required 89 and 118 innings respectively to reach their outstanding tallies. Here was a 24-year-old brusquely consigning them to history.

"Those players are absolute legends of the game," adds McInnes, "and she just blew them away."

By that point Lanning was averaging above 50 and striking at 96.7, and inside six months later her 10th ODI hundred set a new benchmark in the women's game.

She was still to turn 25.

* * *

Australia great Lisa Sthalekar has two standout memories of a young Lanning. She was even moved to write about the second.

The first, though, was before Lanning had even entered her teens. Sthalekar was 25, and an Australia rep, though on this particular day at Drummoyne Oval, she was playing for Gordon, her Sydney first grade side, which happened to be a player short.

Lanning, 12 (yes, twelve), had been performing well in the lower grades and so, in scenes that might remind some of another batting wunderkind in Ricky Ponting, she was added to the team sheet.

"This little blondie," laughs Sthalekar. "I think she batted 11, didn't make any runs, but technically she looked good – she was just small. But there was enough there to think: Hang on, this kid's got something.

"Then her family moved to Victoria and I was still working in the high-performance department at Cricket New South Wales.

"So every time I'd go down there for the national championships, I'd see her and her parents, and she was always developing really well, so I wasn't surprised when she came into the Australian team."

That was around six years later, when Lanning burst onto the scene with that century against England, then scored a second some 14 months later in India.

Image Id: C7A93F0E18764F3B810CADB7DF04ACE9 Image Caption: Lanning and Sthalekar as teammates back in January 2013 // Getty

Most vivid in Sthalekar's mind though is Lanning's third ODI hundred, against New Zealand at North Sydney Oval in December 2012.

With the Rose Bowl Series locked at one-all, a 20-year-old Lanning walked out to bat at North Sydney Oval alongside Healy. Her scores in the two previous matches had been 87 (71) and 72 (53), both times run out.

A target of 178 might have presented a challenge had it been a 20-over contest. But perhaps not. In a tick over an hour, Lanning had blasted 103 from 50 balls, with 90 runs coming in boundaries (18 fours, three sixes). Her century had arrived in 45 balls – still the fastest by an Australian in international cricket.

Afterward, Sthalekar waxed lyrical about a legend in the making in a blog piece titled 'A Star is Born', writing: "I can't wait to see her break all the records".

There have been many matches between then and now, and many memorable innings. Tuesday's unbeaten 135 against South Africa in Wellington was the latest; a Lanning special in a sizeable run chase that maintained Australia's winning run at this World Cup.

Healy was there this week at the Basin Reserve, just as she was at North Sydney Oval, when she made 62no from 69 balls as a subtle sideshow to the Lanning Spectacular. It would be logical to draw the conclusion that the two have reversed roles in the 10 years that have passed, and to an extent it is true, but Healy believes, with regards to Lanning's batting at least, that is too simplistic a view.

"I distinctly remember her just playing with this freedom that day," she says. "I mean, I personally couldn't hit 'em off the square for 20 overs, but Meg came out and just made it look like we were playing schoolgirls cricket.

"It was a younger Meg, probably a 'less-responsibility Meg', but at the same time, I watched the innings (against South Africa), and I felt like that was just as free, just as clinical as that one was back then.

"So there are similarities still – probably just a few less wrinkles back then."

Superb Lanning, flying Gardner hand South Africa first defeat


Healy's assessment feels right. During her innings on Tuesday, and despite being dropped twice (on 115 and 132), Lanning appeared in complete command, blending the conflicting batting pillars of freedom and responsibility seamlessly.

For the 10th time in her ODI career she anchored a winning ODI run chase with a hundred; only three other Australians (Healy, Beth Mooney, and Nicole Bolton twice) have managed that even once through the same period.

"Her statistics in run chases just show the adaptability of her game," Healy points out. "But the beauty of Meg is, she's always going to play pretty freely, especially when she gets into an innings, and I think the most dangerous part about her batting is that when she gives herself time to get in, you know there's a big flurry coming, and it's going to be pretty damaging."

So it was as a 20-year-old in Sydney, and as a 30-year-old in Wellington. Across the intervening decade, it has been a case of things both changing and staying the same.

* * *

Healy jokes that Lanning has relaxed a little on tour of late because she has discovered red wine. She has liked seeing her old friend enjoying herself both on the field and off, and cites one of the true turning points there as the established influence of head coach Matthew Mott, who she believes has gradually helped Lanning "relax into the role".

Mott was appointed in March 2015 and has over time developed a strong bond with his captain, who turned 23 the day after he was announced to the post. Lanning had been T20 skipper for a little over a year by that point (she was named ODI captain four months later) but taking the job at such a young age had impacted her in ways perhaps unforeseen. And so we come full circle; back to the guarded, poker-faced Lanning cricket fans saw for so long on their television screens.

Villani, who was a regular fixture in Australia's T20 team at the time, watched it unfold in real time.

"Because she became captain when she was really young, she felt like she needed to protect herself a little bit," she says. "And with the way the game has become more professional – in that there's more on TV, there's more media around – I feel like she probably wasn't ready for how much she was going to be in the public eye.

"She was still just a young kid, then all of a sudden she had the weight of the world on her shoulders."

Image Id: 93CDECDB493E48669308D7CF307D1622 Image Caption: Coach Matthew Mott has been instrumental in helping Lanning "relax" into the captaincy over time // Getty

Sthalekar worked with the Australian squad at the 2014 ICC World T20 – Lanning's first major tournament in charge, during which she turned 22 – and remembers having conversations with the young leader who, because she had always played beyond her years, had no captaincy experience to draw on.

"We talked about what she was trying to do, and how to deal with people off the field, things like that," she recalls. "(With the media she was) trying to figure out what to say, what not to say, how much to reveal, because she's privy to so many conversations, so it is a lot of responsibility, and she did become (wary).

"She's got a great personality, it's just that she was thrust into the captaincy role at such a young age, and there's no doubt it took a toll in that regard."

Villani agrees with Healy regarding the influence of Mott, pointing to his relaxed nature as an ideal counterpoint to Lanning's more intense approach. As that relationship grew over its initial years, another key moment in Lanning's evolution occurred, when shoulder surgery suddenly positioned her – in her own mind at least – on the outside looking in.

"I hadn't been dropped once I came into the Aussie team," she wrote in a Direct Hit column on in October 2018. "I didn't have the perspective of what it was like to be on the outside.

"But I guess I've gotten that over the last little bit. I remember going to the Ashes Test match in Sydney last November and I would sit in the changeroom with the team, and I felt like a total outsider in my own team, in a way … I didn't know where to sit, I didn't know where to put my bag, I didn't know whether I could talk to someone. It was awful, really.

"I didn't think it would be that hard. It sort of struck me … I'm the captain of the team … if that's the way I'm feeling when I'm not quite in it, imagine how other people feel.

"So from that point of view I think it's given me a good perspective on how other players look at things … and I think it'll make me a better captain."

Direct Hit: Lanning on the lowest point of her career


Lanning had won more silverware than most players would dare dream, had scored more international centuries than any woman, had led her country 77 times, yet she had been so committed to developing herself as a batter and a captain – and helping to build a successful team – that she had been blindsided by what ultimately became an invaluable slice of life perspective.

Context considered, it was an understandable oversight.

"It takes time to get to that place in your life where you feel truly comfortable with who you are as a person, and for Meg that's coincided with the job as well," Villani says.

"She didn't have the experience of a lot of national captains coming into the job, so it's taken her a while to find out who she is not only as a person but what kind of leader she wants to be as well.

"Until you find that spot it's hard to be completely relaxed and confident within yourself.

"She's definitely reached that spot now where she's very comfortable with who she is, and how she wants to lead the group."

* * *

Sthalekar caught up with Lanning in Melbourne during the summer gone for a round of golf. The Australia captain was taking some time off from the WNCL and readying herself for the Ashes, and beyond it, the World Cup. They talked about life and, inevitably, cricket, discussing who might replace injured leg-spinner Georgia Wareham in the national set-up, among other things. Most of the minutiae of the conversation is lost to Sthalekar's memory, but something else has stayed with her.

"It was the most relaxed I'd seen her," she recalls. "I've really seen her relax and warm into (the captaincy).

"The relationship she has with 'Motty' is really good … and she's certainly a lot more relaxed, and knows how to deal with different personalities."

Sthalekar has also enjoyed watching her Channel Seven colleague Villani peel back the layers of her good friend during match broadcasts for the benefit of fans craving an insight into Lanning's personality. For a little while there appeared a concerted push from Cricket Australia to reveal more of the captain's character, but forcing the issue never seemed as likely to have been as successful as simply allowing it to happen, and through Villani – and Lanning's own evolution – we have been privy to a lighter side.

"I like to think of myself as her 'humaniser'," Villani laughs. "I feel like it's my job as her friend to help showcase the personality beneath the athlete, which is obviously what I value most.

"I think it's very important to make sure that the young girls playing in her teams understand that she's a person first, and how she's maybe come across in the media, that's just one side of her."

Adds Sthalekar: "You can see (Lanning) her loosen up when she does interviews with (Villani). It's fun, it's relaxed, and it's great."

Image Id: 5AF80898EACA4390ABD73E0EFFB949FB Image Caption: Lanning with her self-described 'humaniser', Villani // Getty

The flipside to all this of course is that Lanning is entitled to offer only as much of herself to the public as she feels comfortable. She understands the pitfalls and pressures of that world much better than the masses, and that knowledge has been instructive as she balances her profile with her privacy.   

"She wants people to just judge her as an athlete, and probably keep her private life a bit more protected," Villani says. "She's very close with her family and really respects those boundaries (of privacy).

"There are other people that are a bit more open and out there, but that's not Meg.

"We've always sort of joked about how in retirement we want to raise kids at the same time and create our own mother's club and stuff like that.

"She's really just this beautiful, gentle, quiet soul underneath it all."

Villani jokes that Lanning, with her recent penchant for red wine, must have matured without her of late. She recalls instead the pair often celebrating wins with a nice burger, which led to a tradition at the Melbourne Stars of Lanning shouting the entire team dinner at the burger bar of their choice.

Image Id: 300BE9BCCBCB461682353BBDEE55E366 Image Caption: Lanning's captaincy has benefited from having senior players such as Healy and Perry around her // Getty

Tonight, the Australians will be hoping they are celebrating a seventh-straight success at this World Cup, following their clash with Bangladesh. They will also be toasting three birthdays within their squad, with chief selector Shawn Flegler having turned 50 on Wednesday, Healy turning 32 on Thursday, and Lanning's 30th today.

Whether they toast with a burger or a red wine – or both – might be left for the skipper to decide. Regardless, fellow birthday girl Healy seems to represent the sentiment of many when she says it is nice to see Lanning in a positive frame of mind as she reaches a milestone date.

"Getting the captaincy so young, she's had a big responsibility on her shoulders for the majority of her career now, and sometimes you worry that maybe they're not going to enjoy themselves, enjoy their career as much," she says.

"But I think 'Motty', and having some really good senior players around as well, has probably enabled her to just enjoy it, and let things happen organically; it's not that she's forcing change or anything, it's just happened over time.

"It's nice to see her relax, enjoy touring life, enjoy other people's company and not have to worry too much about a stressful team.

"She's good fun to go and have a glass of wine with, and a chat about life."

Which they say begins at 30.

ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022

Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Beth Mooney, Tahlia McGrath, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Amanda-Jade Wellington. Travelling reserves: Heather Graham, Georgia Redmayne


Australia's World Cup 2022 fixtures

Mar 5: Beat England by 12 runs

Mar 8: Beat Pakistan by seven wickets

Mar 13: Beat New Zealand by 141 runs

Mar 15: Beat West Indies by seven wickets

Mar 19: Beat India by six wickets

Mar 22: Beat South Africa by five wickets

Mar 25: v Bangladesh, Basin Reserve, Wellington, 8am AEDT



Mar 30: Basin Reserve, Wellington, 9am AEDT

Mar 31: Hagley Park, Christchurch, 12pm AEDT


Apr 3: Hagley Park Christchurch, 11am AEST

All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports