ICC Women's T20 World Cup 2020
Fairytale coach: How Mott fell in love with his job
Confidante, strategist and technician for Australia's all-conquering women, Matthew Mott is not above 'shitting himself' when the pressure is on. Following the toughest World Cup win of them all, he's pondering the future
It was 4.30 on Monday morning by the time Matthew Mott climbed into his hotel bed in Melbourne, simultaneously exhausted and elated. Australia's head coach had been one of the first to leave an afterparty that was raging on in the bowels of the MCG. His team had thrashed India by 85 runs in the T20 World Cup final the previous night. More than 86,000 fans had been on hand to witness what Mott terms "the perfect game", then the majority had stayed on as the victors jumped on stage and danced with Katy Perry post-match.
All of it was the spectacular climax of a tournament that, for Mott and the Australians, had been laced throughout with tension and uncertainty. Expectation and pressure had been the buzzwords as the tournament favourites nervously tiptoed their way through the group stages, then survived a Sydney squall to take what outsiders deemed their predestined place in the final.
For Mott, there had been nothing predestined about it. He knew the road to the biggest event in women's cricket history would be littered with proverbial potholes. It had been a topic repeatedly addressed within the squad. What mattered would be how they responded.
Seventeen days on, here he was – nerves frayed, euphoria fading – about to board a plane from Tullamarine Airport back to Brisbane with most of his support staff. He gave himself a moment to reflect on what had happened, both in the tournament and even back through his five-year tenure. Then he briefly looked ahead. To next year's ODI World Cup in New Zealand, at the conclusion of which his contract will be up. He wondered if he might have had enough of it by then. Whether the timing would be right for a new voice in his position. If he would be ready to tackle a new challenge.
He realised he didn't have those answers. How could he know what he will be feeling in 12 months?
The one conclusion he could draw had nothing to do with his future, though it was centred very much upon his profession. He lives for this stuff. The high stakes. The sick feeling in the pit of the stomach every time a run chase is going down to the wire. The gut punch of defeat and the relief and satisfaction of winning.
"It's quite addictive, that real win-loss pressure," he tells cricket.com.au. "I love being hands on, I love the ability to interact with players and staff in high-pressure environments.
"I've had that my whole life, going straight from playing into coaching, and at times you hate it – you're sick of getting nervous before games, making sure you've done everything right – but then when it's over, you realise that's the stuff that gets you out of bed in the morning."
Mott had never felt as nervous as he did on February 21, when the clock in his head stopped counting down and the flick suddenly switched from build-up to go-time.
At 46, with more than a decade of elite level coaching and 90 state games as a top-order batter to his name, he generally feels well-equipped to handle the emotional vacillations that partner professional sport.
Not so for the World Cup opener, played against eventual final opponents India on a Sydney Showgrounds pitch conducive to the turn of wily spinner Poonam Yadav.
"No-one is immune to those feelings," he says. "There was that much build-up to it, we knew it was going to be a tough game, and it went pear-shaped.
"When you're under that sort of pressure, it's like you're in slow-motion and you can't do anything to fix it."
Australia opener Beth Mooney has worked out her coach's modus operandi.
"He keeps his emotions in check (during games), which is good," she explains. "He keeps it cool and then shares all his emotions after the game."
Mott did exactly that after the opening loss to India. He laid it on the table because, amid the chaos of a frenzied playing, training and travel schedule, the air needed to be cleared before one hiccup morphed into a full-blown crisis. He had also preached the need for honesty. So after breaking the ice with some cracks about the team giving him heart attacks and grey hairs, he offered up his own truth.
"I told them I was pretty much shitting myself and I'm sure they would've been too," he reflects. "I said, 'Let's admit that, and then we can move on'.
"If we'd put our heads in the sand and said, 'No, I was fine', then we weren't going to move forward."
It wasn't a cure-all. Through the tournament, he says, there was self-doubt and fears that the fairytale ending would never come to fruition, with many of those negative thoughts arising as a consequence of the constant expectation and pressure. Mott remembers being blown away by the number of television cameras at airports as interest in Australia's women's cricket team reached an apogee, and thinking how it was such a double-edged sword; suddenly, so many people genuinely cared, but equally, it meant his team had been thrust into a spotlight from which "there was no escape".
"After we got knocked over by India, then we were (3-10 chasing 123) halfway through that game against Sri Lanka, you're thinking, My God, this is not going to end well," he reflects.
"But just the resilience of the whole group … I take immense pleasure out of the small part I played, but particularly the support staff, and Meg (Lanning) and Rach (Haynes) – the senior players – we weathered a few big hits early on and we didn't crumble.
"We knew we'd get put under siege at some point … but we found a way to be there at the end. That makes me incredibly proud."
Mott's fingerprints were all over the recovery. After Australia scraped home against Sri Lanka, the batting group came together to identify any issues from the two collapses they'd experienced in the tournament at that point, and worked out ways to move past them. That meeting, Mooney reveals, was instigated by the coach.
Later, in the do-or-die win over New Zealand, when Australia so very nearly erred in the final over as the pressure reached a crescendo, Mott pinpointed an absence of calm in key moments as an area that needed to be quickly rectified. The following day, the squad came together and watched a replay of that final over, resolving to learn from the experience.
"That actually did help us in the semi-final against South Africa, when it was pouring with rain, and we took our time to set the field and just had that bit more composure," Mott says.
Ahead of the final, Mooney approached Mott, and actually apologised for what she felt had been a sluggish strike-rate through the tournament. The coach saw it differently. He had seen the way Mooney's anchor role had won big matches in recent months; her 56no from 45 balls had been the key to Brisbane Heat's final win in the Big Bash, and her 71no from 54 balls had been the decisive innings in the tri-series final only four weeks prior.
"I said, 'Sorry I've been going a bit slow'," the opener recalls, "and he said, 'No, we've got to find a different way around the course – 12-18 months ago we had to go helter-skelter for the whole 20 overs, but don't underestimate the impact of the role you're playing'.
"Conversations like that help. He has the capacity to make you feel like you're doing the right thing, even if it might not seem like it at the time."
Mott was right. As Alyssa Healy blazed from one end before departing in the 12th over, Mooney set her course for the end of innings. When she arrived at her destination, she was unbeaten on 78 from 54 balls, and Australia's 4-184 was never going to be headed.
The sliding-doors moment in Mott's career came five years ago, when there were two high-profile coaching jobs on offer in Australia. Mott and his young family had returned from the UK, where he had been head coach and then head of elite performance with Glamorgan. Also on his CV was a stint with the NSW men's squad, which he had led to a Sheffield Shield title in 2007-08.
"I was doing bits and pieces with Cricket Australia (CA)," he recalls. "We wanted to live in Brisbane and the opportunity (to coach the national women's team came up.
"It was at the same time as the Victorian men's team job was open, which David Saker ended up taking.
"I pulled out of that race, basically because I'd done some research, asked around the traps, and everyone had said that the female space was going to pretty much go gangbusters in the next few years.
"I spoke to a lot of people I trusted, they said it was an amazing opportunity. It was a national role, which attracted me as well – that was something I hadn't done before.
"I didn't really know a lot about it, or what to expect, but I knew the program was going to get a lot of support and resources, so it was a very attractive opportunity.
"I actually got a text message from (former CA executive) Pat Howard the other day, saying congratulations (on Australia's World Cup win) and I'm bet you glad you took that gamble."
Mott quickly grew to love his new position and eighteen months into his tenure he had a new reason to feel passionate about the role, when wife Taryn gave birth to their baby daughter Milla (they also have an 11-year-old boy, Jai). With time, it shifted his outlook on the changes he was helping implement in the sporting scene in Australia, and potentially beyond.
"Once I got into (the job), I loved it for what it is, and then it went to another level when we had a daughter," he says. "It's so cool to be part of something that potentially allows girls the same opportunity as boys.
"That's been one of the best things, and it's taken my love of what I do to the next level.
"Seeing so many young girls and boys at the final, just being inspired by this team, it feels bigger than cricket."
Beyond merely his own involvement, Mott has seen the way CA's investment in the women's game has paid handsome dividends, not only via the show-stopping scenes of recent weeks, but in subtler ways, too. He never viewed this role as a stepping stone to the men's game, though he is aware that perception existed. Another perception – that coaches must 'prove themselves' in the men's game, regardless of their success in the women's game – is fast becoming anachronistic in the contemporary sporting world.
"That (school of thought) is dissipating; I only have to look at the amount of messages on my phone from players on the men's team, their coaching staff," he says.
"The game has changed. A lot of perceptions around that have been broken down.
"And I think the view of (women's cricket) in the past as a stepping stone, where people saw it as a great way to get in(to coaching), I think we're actually keeping more people in it. Once they get in, they're enjoying what they're doing. That's a major positive to have come out of the last couple of years.
"A lot of that comes back to the funding – we don't want for a hell of a lot; we're blessed with great resources, support staff. So we feel like we're valued, and we're just going to get better and better with all the support we've been getting."
Part of that evolution will be a review process after the 2021 ODI World Cup, which is a year from now and coincides with the end of Mott's contract. With the women's game now taking a more pronounced place on the cricket landscape, he knows competition will be hot for a job that has come to feel like home for him.
"When the role does come up, I do think there'll be a huge field of people coming in for it – males and females from across the world," he says.
"It's a magnificent role, one I've really loved, and it'll just be around whether my voice is the one the group wants or needs to hear.
"I've always had this World Cup and the next one as the two on the radar, but every time you think, That'll do, you think of something else – the Commonwealth Games would be a unique opportunity as well.
"At the moment I'm absolutely loving it, but you don't know what that might look like after the next World Cup. So it's about timing."
Regardless of when he finishes in his current position, Mott sees his path in coaching. He has spoken with CA's executive manager of national teams, Ben Oliver, about his career development. He will coach the Welsh Fire women in this year's Hundred competition in the UK, and he knows he wants to continue as a head coach for at least a couple of years yet, be it with Australia's women's team or someone else. Beyond that the concept of an overarching coaching role at CA might also appeal as a means of reinvesting in a profession that has offered him so much.
"I'd love to be able to give back to coaching," he says. "I've got a lot out of coaching from others and I feel like I'm reasonable at being able to convey some good messages because I've been exposed to some great systems and programs.
"So that's definitely something I'd love to do, it's just whether that's in the near future or something I need to build my credentials for down the track."
In fact, he is already doing it. During Mott's tenure, Australian legends Shelley Nitschke and Leah Poulton have played key coaching roles with the national squad, while he also continues to encourage the current crop of players to earn their Level III Coaching certificates, which Lanning, Haynes and Elyse Villani have done.
He likes the idea of these elite players moving into the coaching sphere after their playing careers, before they are tempted by more glamorous jobs in the media.
"We need to make sure we encourage as many as we can to get into the game where they can have a huge influence," he says. "A lot of the trailblazers in the (women's) game are in the commentary box at the moment, so it's important I think if we're going to develop coaches down the track we handpick some of the best players who could convert into great coaches as well."
Perhaps in a decade or two it will be a Lanning or Haynes in Mott's position now. The very players who inspired a new generation of female cricketers now coaching those who have climbed to the top of that generation. Mott might even still be there, too, offering some sage advice from CA's National Cricket Centre in Brisbane, still finding a reason in coaching to climb out of bed in the morning.
CommBank Tour of South Africa
First ODI: March 22, Kingsmead, Durban
Second ODI: March 25, Pietermaritzburg
Third ODI: March 28, Buffalo Park, East London
First T20: March 31, Buffalo Park, East London
Second T20: April 3, Willowmoore Park, Benoni
Third T20: April 4, Willowmoore Park, Benoni