Women's Ashes Test
How skipper Lanning outfoxed Edwards
She had never captained a Test match, but Meg Lanning's tactics trumped her rival's
Lisa Sthalekar is an Australian cricket legend who was the first player to score 1,000 runs and take 100 wickets in ODIs in her glittering Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars career. This summer, she is staging a comeback for the Sydney Sixers in the Women's Big Bash League.
In terms of experience at the helm, England captain Charlotte Edwards is light years ahead of any other female player in the game, regardless of the format.
Edwards, 35, rose to the top job in March 2006 and since then she has helped England win a World Cup, a T20 World Cup and the two most recent Ashes Series.
On the flip-side, Meg Lanning – who last year at 21 became Australia's youngest-ever captain, male or female – has only had the experience of winning a T20 World Cup and prior to last week’s Test match, had never captained in the longest format.
During the lead up to the one and only Test of the Women’s Ashes at Canterbury, that lack of experience failed to faze Lanning.
A relaxed character who takes everything in her stride, Lanning – now 23 years old – keeps things very simple when in charge.
Quick single: Stars thrash England in Test
"Captaincy is about going with your gut and really trying to be as proactive as you can. I try and do that in the shorter formats, so it is probably not going to be too different in the Test series,” a calm Lanning explained prior to the Test.
Her approach worked. The Southern Stars completed a crushing 161-run win to take an 8-2 lead in the mixed-format series – an advantage in large part due to the leadership of Australia’s young skipper.
In fact, the most pleasing aspect of this Ashes Series so far has been watching the battle between the captains.
Lanning is competing against a legend with an enviable amount of experience, but so far she is coming out ahead - not only in her skill set of scoring runs, but because she is going with her gut and it is certainly paying off.
Watch: The road to Ashes success
Right from the outset in the Test, Lanning took the initiative by electing to bat in overcast conditions, something I am not entirely sure England would have done if they had won.
On a benign wicket that has a similar slope to Lord’s, the Test was always going to come down to which captain performed better.
From ball one of the match, many of those watching felt England strike bowlers Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole were bowling from the wrong ends, a move which allowed Australia openers Elyse Villani and Nicole Bolton to survive the new ball and form a respectable opening stand of 66.
Not once on the first day did Edwards ask her two strike bowlers to switch ends, just to mix it up.
Nor did she have one follow the other, which meant they were either bowling together or resting together.
Having watched England bowl on the first day and with similar conditions presenting themselves to the Australian bowling attack on day two, Lanning opted to take a different approach.
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Ellyse Perry took the new ball from the Nackington Road end, which not only was running slightly downhill but which had also shown more bounce than the Pavilion end.
Even more advantageous was the fact that the slope to right-handers was now running from left to right, meaning that Perry's natural away swing kept the slips in play, while the occasional delivery with the assistance of the slope would nip back to the right-handers.
These variables caused doubt in the batters’ minds as to whether to leave or hit the ball.
Lanning's simple change of ends and Perry's ability to bowl in the right area gave Australia the start that they wanted.
Perry's second over saw a ball to rise sharply to dismiss Laura Winfield (1) before the very next delivery removed the shuffling Sarah Taylor who was struck in front.
Watch: Perry almost completes hat-trick
Additionally, Edwards made little use of her sixth and seventh bowlers as England bowled 101 overs in Australia's first innings total of 274. Perhaps Edwards felt that only Brunt, Shrubsole and the spin of Laura Marsh were building pressure and providing wicket-taking options. But it also meant that all three had long, hard spells of bowling.
On the other hand, Lanning never allowed her bowlers to bowl more than five overs in a spell, regardless of the situation.
"We didn't want the batters to settle in and get used to the bowling. It was that sort of wicket where there was always something happening. If you could get that variety in there as well that would really help," Lanning said post-match.
"I probably erred on changing a little bit more than letting things go too long rather than waiting for them to make a mistake. I wanted to be really proactive."
Watch: Schutt puts Stars in control
The consistency and depth of the Stars’ bowling options also helped.
“All our bowlers were contributing so I didn't feel like there was a weak link there which is very helpful as a captain," Lanning said.
Quick single: All-round superstar Perry still improving
While England and Edwards had chances throughout the Test to take control, they were unable to take advantage of those opportunities.
When Test debutante Kristen Beams walked into the middle in the 72nd over, with Australia on 206 with just two wickets in hand, Edwards persisted with her two spinners in Marsh and Heather Knight.
I can understand Edwards wanted to rest her two frontline bowlers in anticipation of the new ball.
But those eight overs of slow spin gave Beams sufficient time to get accustomed to the wicket and conditions and she went on to form what was the match-winning partnership of 68 runs with Jess Jonassen.
Watch: Jonassen and Beams rescue Australia
Stars head coach Matthew Mott was full of praise for the way Lanning adapted to the longer game, and rightly so.
“As a bowling unit I thought Meg operated the bowlers sensationally well," he said.
Australia certainly now have a new-breed of captain leading both their men's and women's teams.
The exciting prospect is that both Steve Smith and Meg Lanning are still extremely young and I am sure they’ll continue to grow and develop in their roles.