The former coach and vice-captain reveal how they combined with Meg Lanning to lead Australia to three world titles inside four years
Meg, Matt & Rach: Inside a legendary leadership trio
Matthew Mott remembers flying to Sydney in the autumn of 2015 to meet Meg Lanning for the first time. Lanning was only 23 but already a World Cup-winning captain and one of the world's foremost batters, with six international hundreds to her name.
"She had an appearance for Cricket Australia so I met her at the SCG, we chatted around our general thoughts on cricket and I felt like there was a pretty instant connection," Mott tells cricket.com.au.
"She was quite understated for a player of her ability. Very modest.
"We exchanged some views, and my first impressions were that we could develop a pretty good partnership."
Lanning had been full-time captain for about a year. In Melbourne, she had just led Box Hill to a second-straight Agnes McDonnell Trophy before packing her kitbag away in a shed – once upon a time an annual ritual to mark the end of a cricket season which, in light of today's playing schedule, seems particularly quaint.
"He seems a really relaxed person," Lanning told The Age. "He's had a lot of experience as well, so I'm certainly very excited to work with him … and really take us to that next level, to really dominate world cricket in the next couple of years."
Lanning went to Bali that April with a group of Victoria teammates. There she slept and read books and did little else. By that point she had been playing for Australia for more than four years. Even then, time outside the bubble held appeal.
"It was nice not having to worry about schedules," she said. "There wasn't a place you had to be at a particular time. We could pretty much do what we wanted to do."
Months later, a refreshed Lanning led Australia to a long-awaited Ashes triumph in the UK. For the next two years, the team enjoyed plenty of wins, though a T20I series loss in New Zealand in early 2016 was followed soon after by a failure to defend their world title in the same format in India.
For a team that was accustomed to winning World Cups, the Lanning-Mott union had so far garnered zero from one attempt. From Mott's perspective however, that formative period had been far from wasted time.
"The first year or two, the team was very successful, but it wasn't all plain sailing," he says. "What did happen though was Meg and I developed a lot of trust in each other. We found out about our strengths and weaknesses, and we learned a lot about each other through that time."
Something else happened, too. One upshot of Lanning's elevation to the captaincy as a 21-year-old soon became clear to Mott.
"When I first came in, she wanted to make sure she wasn't seen as having any weaknesses," he says. "So we spoke a lot about trying to understand herself, about authenticity and being comfortable in her own skin.
"None of us are perfect, and that's fine, we can play to our strengths, be prepared to say, 'I don't know', and leverage off others."
Mott admired Lanning's straight-talking ways ("she doesn't do fluff," he laughs) but he also saw space at the leadership table for a softer touch to complement her. His strength was as a builder of relationships – both between himself and others, and between others – and for that to happen inside the Australia camp he felt he needed to create a more relaxed environment. Which he couldn't do on his own.
"Myself and 'Flegs' (selection chair Shawn Flegler) did quite a bit of research looking into who were the really strong leaders within the state systems," he says.
"Most people came back saying that in a different circumstance Rachael Haynes could be Australian captain – that she's a strong leader with some great skills, but there was also a softer side there where she would put her arm around players."
Haynes had already enjoyed a 63-match international career. In 2016, she had even considered retirement due to the challenges of juggling her work and domestic cricket commitments, and by early 2017, the 30-year-old had been out of the national side for three-and-a-half years.
"Rach's numbers in state cricket at the time were good, but she wasn't knocking the door down," Mott says. "But we did see a potential leadership role there complementing what Meg had to offer."
And so when an extra player was needed for an ODI tour to New Zealand after injury struck Ellyse Perry and Alex Blackwell, Mott and Flegler made their move. Haynes was called up, and made 50 from 61 balls in her only innings of the series.
By then, they had seen enough both on and off the field to convince them they had their woman. Haynes was picked for the 2017 ODI World Cup, and actually led the side in wins over Pakistan and South Africa as Lanning managed a shoulder problem that was in need of surgery.
When the team's famous tipping point arrived – defeat at the hands of India in that World Cup semi-final – Mott felt confident the right people were in the right positions, and at the right points in their careers, for meaningful change to happen.
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Haynes jumped into the hot seat that home summer as Lanning recovered from shoulder surgery. It was a sudden ascension and, given the presence of Blackwell, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy, as surprising to many as Lanning's appointment had been back at the start of 2014.
For Haynes though, the timing was excellent.
"The India loss was pretty heartbreaking for everyone," she tells cricket.com.au. "But it was also a moment for us to pause and get some clarity on what we stood for. Individually, too, we looked at what we could get better at to help our team improve, and the importance of everyone buying into the direction we wanted to go.
"Something our team struggled with when I came back in was people being comfortable admitting when they got a situation wrong, or just talking openly about different ways we could approach certain situations.
"So as a group we spoke about having the humility to do that, and then through that we got better at talking about cricket, and being able to properly unpack it."
Mott remembers Lanning personifying that change, despite the fact she was sidelined through the entire season.
"There's been plenty said since about one of the meetings we had that was particularly significant after that World Cup," he says. "Meg led the way there. She got up in front of the group and she said, 'I feel completely embarrassed (about the World Cup exit), I just keep going over it in my head, I've got to let it go'.
"She talked about the mistakes she made and the changes she wanted to make to get better. For a great player like Meg to be like that in front of the group, it just showed everyone it's OK to be vulnerable, to be human.
"From the Meg I'd met a couple of years earlier, it was a really impressive evolution."
Lanning has also since noted her maturation that summer, and the perspective she gained from the first lengthy injury of her career and not knowing where to sit in the dressing room when she arrived at North Sydney Oval for the Ashes Test.
"For the captain of the side to feel that way," says Haynes, "that was a lightbulb moment for her to go, 'OK, I'm feeling like this as a leader in this group, so imagine how someone coming in who's not of that stature might feel'.
"It definitely helped her as a leader. Up until that moment she'd never experienced missing selection, or being out for a period of time with injury. It's really hard to empathise with that position if you haven't gone through it."
A consequence of that was Lanning's further willingness to embrace Haynes as a leader in the group; where others in the same position might have considered her a rival, she was shrewd enough to understand her deputy's strengths and how they worked alongside hers.
"Meg had the humility to step back and let me lead," Haynes says of that period. She wasn't overbearing – that's just not in her nature – and she never tried to take over, nor was there ever any stifling of my leadership or insistence that I do things a certain way.
"She just allowed me to do it my way, and showed that trust in me, which I don't imagine was an easy thing to do when you've spent the last few years leading.
"And the trust element is really significant because that's what binds the three of us. We had each other's back and we supported each other in our attempts to bring the group together."
Mott felt the same way. For his vision to play out, he needed to have faith in both leaders. That was aided, he says, by their straight-talking ways – he is a staunch believer in a maxim he once heard at a coaching course: 'Surround yourself with people who will disagree, but aren't disagreeable'.
Such communication made for transparent conversations and, in turn, steady progress.
"Everyone was very open to disagreeing in a really healthy way, and the flipside to that was when a decision was made, we'd all fall into line and really back it," he says.
"I always thought Rach could sense the mood of the group – where we needed to change tack at times or where we might've overlooked something – and she was able to feed that into Meg and I so we could change course slightly.
"There was never any conflict in that, but there was healthy discussion at times. Rach is a classic one where if Meg or I ran something past her and she paused for long enough, we'd go, 'OK that's a shit idea, let's move on'.
"And there was also a realisation of each other's strengths, which meant none of us tried to be everything to everyone. We leveraged off each other well and there was a great understanding of who was best placed for certain roles, whether it was around team dynamics or delivering a tough message. Which again comes back to the importance of trust."
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There was one overriding feeling for Mott and Lanning when they came together on the outfield of Antigua's Sir Vivian Richards Stadium after the skipper hit the winning runs to regain the ICC World T20 trophy in November 2018.
"Just the sheer relief of getting that win, for us as coach and captain, that was massive," Mott says. "We'd lost the final (of the World T20) in 2016, then both of us had been through the tough times of 2017, where we felt like we'd made a lot of mistakes, so there was pressure on to show that Australia was back."
Through the tournament, the likes of opener Alyssa Healy and allrounder Ashleigh Gardner had embodied the much-discussed 'fearless' brand of cricket the group had resolved to play. It is a clichéd term now but the group brought it into vogue as they used it to underpin their new approach.
"We did a lot of work on those values," Haynes says. "We spoke quite openly at the time about it which meant we also had to take ownership of it on the field and back each other in those situations. At times that meant that individually you might fail, but if that failure was in line with those values and the brand of cricket we wanted to produce, we embraced it."
Mott labels Lanning "one of the most selfless cricketers I've ever seen" and insists her remarkable record could be greater still had she not always placed 'team first', which was another key value of the group.
"She put the team first at every opportunity," he adds. "There were times where she knew she could've gone out and made a hundred off a certain amount of balls but there was a better option for someone else to go out and score quick runs, and she'd make that call.
"That breeds confidence in the group around her that she's seeing the bigger picture all the time."
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As the decade drew to a close and the professionalism of the women's game created more work for Lanning both on and off the field, the leadership group again adapted and played to their strengths.
"Having had the opportunity to captain the team, I'd gotten a sense of what the role entails," Haynes says. "There are so many off-field things that people don't necessarily see, and for me, getting that insight helped me become a better vice-captain.
"I tried to support Meg where I could, do tasks that I thought might give her some time back, and it gave me some empathy for her in the role."
There were several other figures at this time who started having more of an impact, too.
Healy, who once labelled herself a "reluctant professional" as a youngster, was a major beneficiary of what she termed the "player-driven environment" that had been created.
"'Motty' came in at a time where it all felt really highly strung," Healy told cricket.com.au in 2021. "We were well drilled, but it was like we were so used to people telling us what to do that we were always waiting for that to happen.
"You're playing at the top level – realistically, you should know what you need as an individual to best prepare yourself for the game, and I think that player-driven environment leads to the maturing of players really quickly."
For Healy and also Perry, that development soon became evident through leadership.
"For a long time those two were just sitting quietly, and respectfully letting Meg captain," Mott says. "But over the last few years particularly we really tried to make sure everyone felt as though they were heard, and their opinions were valued.
"'Midge' (Healy) was one of the go-to spiritual leaders of the group, and Megan Schutt was the same. When times were tough they were the big energy givers, and whether it was giving me a bit of lip or taking the piss out of someone, they were the ones who would do that. They were both very good at sensing what the group needed.
"'Pez' (Perry) led in terms of being constantly the ultimate professional – so level, so balanced – and she had a massive influence over a few of the younger players like Darcie Brown and Annabel Sutherland, in making them feel like they were really part of it from the start.
"She spent a lot of time with them, not only at training but going for coffee and just naturally being a nurturer of those younger players. Most of them would've grown up seeing her as a pioneer and an idol of the game, but she broke that down really quickly and found a way to connect.
"Beth Mooney was another one who emerged in that leadership space, too. She probably flew more under the radar but she became a great ally of Meg's behind the scenes, and a real supporter of Rach's as well.
"They all assumed different ways to lead and that was part of the strength of the whole group. There was a lot of talk about Meg and Rach, but those guys played a really valuable role supporting them in their own way."
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Haynes casts her mind back to her first stint in the Australia squad when, in the summer of 2010-11, a gifted young Lanning arrived in camp. The 18-year-old had been in blistering touch for Victoria and duly made a century in her second ODI, but there was another facet of her game that wasn't quite so polished.
"She came in and was really struggling with some of the fitness work we had to do," Haynes says. "It wasn't a strength of hers."
So Lanning went away and turned it into exactly that, becoming one of the fittest players in the game and routinely leading from the front in the national squad's 2km time trials. It turned her into an even more formidable player.
"She'd always been really skilful and gifted," Haynes adds, "but that fitness then enabled her to replicate performance after performance after performance. Her record speaks to that."
There were many times thereafter that Haynes marvelled at the batting genius of her captain, though she singles out her record-breaking 133no in the 2019 Ashes, which ended England's unbeaten record at Chelmsford, as the best of the lot.
"I don't think I've seen a more complete T20 innings," she says. "There's probably a few moments in my career where I've gone from being a teammate to just a total fan, and that was definitely one."
Perhaps the apogee of the Lanning-Haynes leadership duo came seven months later, during the side's T20 World Cup defence in 2020. After Australia lost their opening match to India, they found themselves teetering at 3-10 in pursuit of 123 against Sri Lanka in Perth.
Enter Lanning (41no) and Haynes (60), who combined for a 95-run stand to all but secure victory. It is one of Mott's fondest memories of his time as head coach, and one he feels sums up the pair.
"We were another wicket away from being knocked out of the tournament," he says. "Meg and Rach engineered that partnership through sheer grit and determination, and we got through."
The final win over India that followed and the 2022 ODI World Cup crown they had been craving since that 2017 semi-final defeat made it a period of unparalleled success for Australia. For Mott, that was the exit point, while Haynes stayed on for Commonwealth Games gold later that same year.
For the skipper, the brilliant centrepiece of the Australian dynasty, the finish line was for a long time less certain. That changed only last week. From India, Mott watched Lanning's teary retirement announcement at the MCG.
"She was stoic, but she let the public know that she is human," he smiles. "It goes a long way for our leaders to be able to do that."