We wind the clock back 14 years to trace the path to the big time of one of the greatest to wield the willow
'This is special': The arrival of the Megastar
The name Meg Lanning has been on the lips of most around the Big Bash circuit these past couple of days after the record-breaking Australia skipper called time on her international career.
Teammates and opponents, coaches and support staff, they all talked about the legend and legacy, the records and remarkable feats.
Scorchers superstar Beth Mooney and the team's bowling coach Kath Hempenstall got chatting on a flight to Melbourne. They cast their minds back to a game they both played on November 26, 2009.
"Meg was unbelievable that day," smiles Mooney, who was 15 at the time. "What a player."
Alan Davidson Oval was the venue, in Sydney's inner west. Victoria's Second XI was taking on Queensland's Second XI in the rather uncreatively named Cricket Australia Women's Cup.
After Queensland were bowled out for 184 thanks largely to Hempenstall's 5-38, Lanning arrived in the middle at 1-8.
From there, the diminutive 17-year-old assumed complete control of the run chase. She dominated a 94-run second-wicket stand with a young Molly Strano, who made 22, before Victoria lost 7-76. No other batter made more than six.
When victory was achieved with nine balls to spare, the Vics had Lanning to thank. Exclusively. Her unbeaten 129 accounted for 69 per cent of the team total, with extras (23) the second-highest scorer.
"It was just phenomenal," says Hempenstall. "After the game, our coach was talking about how the saying 'You've won the game off your own bat' gets used a lot, and then he said, 'but Meg, you've literally won this game off your own bat'.
"You could see even then what an amazing talent she was, but she was also just an incredible competitor – she would contest every ball like it was her last.
"And even at that age she'd take on the responsibility in a run chase to get the job done."
For Lanning, such dominance became almost de rigueur.
The following day, Victoria played two T20 matches. They won both, and Lanning was top scorer in each: 60 from 38 balls against South Australia; 59no from 43 balls in a run chase of 102 against Western Australia.
A fortnight later, the teenager was duly picked for an Australia Under-21s side to take on New Zealand.
The upward trajectory continued. An 18-year-old Lanning – now in the state's senior women's side – began the next season with a bang, creaming 54no in a winning one-day run chase for the Vics and backing it up a day later with a blazing 79no off 37 while opening in a T20.
From her next two one-day innings Lanning hit 38no from 34 balls and 80 from 55, and it was on those numbers that she earned her maiden senior international call-up, for a whirlwind tour of New Zealand where, due to wet weather, one T20I match was played.
In that game, on December 30, 2010, Lanning opened and made 10 from eight balls as fellow youngsters Alyssa Healy (28no) and Sarah Coyte (14no) scrambled the Aussies to a four-wicket win.
The performance from 20-year-old Healy was her best in green and gold, while a young Ellyse Perry was at that point also making her way, though neither had batted any higher than number six for Australia.
Which made Lanning's installation as opener even more notable.
"She'd shot through the system really quickly," says former Breakers and Australia top-order batter Leah Poulton.
"I knew Alyssa and Ellyse quite well because they were with New South Wales, and we all knew how special they were, but I remember chatting to the Victorian girls and them saying, 'Well, this Lanning, she's just as special'.
"Then coming into camp, watching her in the nets and around the group, everyone was like: 'This kid's awesome'.
"Every now and then you get a player come through and almost instantly you go, 'Yep, they're meant to be here'."
Then Australia head coach Richard McInnes felt the same. The previous year, McInnes had watched Lanning blow away her peers in various fitness and skills tests at a National U18s camp in Brisbane.
The unassuming teen reminded him of the great Belinda Clark. He liked her "quiet air of confidence" and pushed for her to be fast tracked into an Australia side that had recently won the T20 World Cup but had failed to reach the final of the 2009 ODI World Cup on home soil.
"Richard was a key part of getting her in and giving her opportunities early," Poulton recalls. "He was a big advocate of Meg's. The way the system was set up back then, the national coach had a lot to do with the pathways, so he'd seen a lot of pathways cricket and understood how far ahead she was."
Lanning made 20 on her ODI debut in Perth against England six days after her T20I bow, but the fact she had even been included in a crunch game against Australia's bitter rivals – let alone at the top of the order – again underlined just how highly she was regarded.
"That was a really big series for us, and there was a fair bit of pressure on our whole squad," Poulton adds. "So for Meg to get her start in a big series like that said a lot.
"With young players, there's always a lot of chatter around how to bring them into the team – will she come through the lower order, through the middle order, the top order?
"I didn't know a heap about Meg at that time, but everybody who knew anything about her spoke about her in a light where it was not even a question. It was, 'No, no, she's good enough to open'.
"That was the chat at the time: 'This Meg Lanning's going to be very, very good'. And yeah, they were right."
Australia were chasing 215 to win the second ODI in Perth, and with it, the series against their Ashes rivals. Lanning walked out alongside the vastly experienced Shelley Nitschke. It was a classic combination of youth and experience, and it proved an ideal union.
"England were a good side with a strong attack," recalls Nitschke. "Katherine (Sciver-)Brunt was at the peak of her powers, steaming in at the WACA. They were quality.
"There'd been a lot of talk about Meg. About how good she was, how good she was going to be. So there were big raps but she didn't come in as this big personality. She was pleasant. She wasn't a cocky kid – she was just doing her thing, opening the batting, and she'd been selected there on her merits. It was business as usual as far as Meg was concerned."
The pair quickly kicked into gear, bringing up the 50-run partnership in the 11th over as England began to get their first extended look at Australia's wunderkind.
"Even though it was against us, I was just so impressed with the way she was batting," says Sydney Thunder's Heather Knight, who was a 19-year-old rookie beginning her own wonderful international career with England.
"We started trying the short ball against her. She missed a few, but then she just started cutting for days, and we started thinking: OK, this girl's decent – she's going to be very good."
At the other end, Nitschke was having similar thoughts.
"We'd put on a hundred and we were going along, scoring at around the same rate, and I'm thinking: This kid goes alright," she says. "Meg was always really strong through the off-side and once she got going she was really good to watch – a really clean striker of the ball.
"And there was just this touch of class about her."
As Nitschke and Lanning both passed 50 and the runs required crept below 100, England became increasingly desperate to break an opening stand that was quickly determining the outcome of the game.
"At one point the Poms were absolutely giving it to her," laughs Nitschke. "It was the end of an over, and I heard them, and I said to Meg, 'Are they having a crack at you?'
"She said, 'Yep', and I said to their 'keeper I think it was, 'Why don't you shut the f$@& up?'
"Meg didn't bite back – she never does – and it didn't seem to bother her. It probably bothered me more than anything, that they were having a crack at the kid.
"In typical Meg fashion she was just like, 'Yeah, whatever' – she was pretty unfazed about the whole thing."
Adds Knight: "I don't remember that actually. I'm not sure if any of it was from me, but I was quite a gobby little 19-year-old, so it might well have been! But you always play hard against Australia. There wasn't a huge amount of sledging, but there was always that competitiveness."
With the score at 0-151, England broke through with the wicket of Nitschke for 70. Lanning, unperturbed, carried on with the task at hand, just as she had always done, and just as she would continue to do across the next dozen years.
"What stood out was just how well-rounded she was as a player at that age," says Poulton, who came in at the fall of Nitschke. "Most people go into international cricket and they have a few flaws in their technique to address early, but I don't ever remember thinking: Oh, she's going to have to fix that."
The runs ticked down. Lanning used her feet to the spinners, driving through cover, and flashed anything remotely short from the quicks through point. A series triumph came into focus, and might easily have become a distraction, but Lanning's concentration never wavered.
"Because she was only 18, you had this expectation of a bit of nervous energy, or even a recklessness about her," Poulton adds. "But Meg was never like that. She never had that period of finding her feet in the first one or two years of international cricket.
"There was this calmness and composure of someone many years ahead of what she was. Everybody was like, 'Wow, this is special'.
"Yes, she was only 18, but she arrived ready, and she arrived with this absolute surety."
ODI century number one in the Lanning catalogue arrived from 116 balls, with six fours and a minimum of fuss. The young starlet offered a bat raise and a beaming smile, and embraced Poulton. Those who had been a part of the formative years of her journey smiled as well, and many sensed it was only the beginning.
A nine-wicket victory was achieved soon after, and Australia celebrated another series win. Lanning was unbeaten on 104. Knight had watched on with a grudging admiration.
"Even though it was against us, I was just so impressed with the way she batted," she recalls. "To get a hundred so young, it was something I was aspiring to do as well, having just started my international career.
"After that trip, I remember thinking: If I'm going to be playing for England for a while, I'm going to be playing a lot of cricket against Meg.
"And I have – that was actually the start of a big rivalry. I've played a lot against her, and I've seen her score a lot of hundreds as well, unfortunately (laughs)."