Generation next: The search for Australia's new leaders
While Meg Lanning is far from finished as Australia's captain just yet, the country's young leaders are already stepping up
20 October 2021, 08:33 AM AEST
The Women's Big Bash League has long been the breeding ground for Australia's future talent and this season, it's the country's future leaders who are stepping into the spotlight.
Hannah Darlington is the youngest captain in the tournament's history, named stand-in skipper at the Sydney Thunder at just 19 years of age in the absence of usual leader, Rachael Haynes.
Tahlia McGrath, 25, has taken charge at the Adelaide Strikers, while 23-year-old Sophie Molineux is the new skipper of the Melbourne Renegades, with Australian teammate Georgia Wareham her deputy.
Elsewhere in the league, allrounder Jess Jonassen, 28, is in her second year at the helm of the Brisbane Heat.
McGrath sees herself as an accidental captain, having discovered her love for leadership after being handed opportunities to lead Australia A and to fill in as South Australia skipper in recent seasons.
"If I'm being completely honest, I never really saw myself as a leader, nor did I have any ambitions," McGrath told cricket.com.au last month.
"But through being given a few opportunities with various sides I found out that I really enjoyed it.
"It's just a whole other challenge.
"Cricket is already is an incredibly mental strategic game, and then to add that captaincy element on top of that … I just thrive off the challenge and constantly thinking about the game and trying to be one step ahead of the other team and helping my teammates as well.
"I accidentally fell into my love (with) it, so I'm quite glad that I was given those early opportunities and that some of my coaches saw things in me that I perhaps didn't."
While Australian and Melbourne Stars captain Meg Lanning, still aged just 29, has plenty of good years ahead of her, steps are being taken to promote and nurture the next generation of leadership.
There is no single standout candidate to replace Lanning when eventually she does step away from the job; since she took on the top job aged 21 in 2013, her deputies – first Alex Blackwell and then Rachael Haynes and more recently Alyssa Healy – have been her senior.
But there is plenty of potential contenders and a group of them, including McGrath, are being mentored by the best in the business this summer.
The South Australian is part of a leadership pilot program being run as a collaboration between Cricket Australia, the Australian Cricketers Association and Australia legend Belinda Clark's project The Leadership Playground.
The aim of the program is to nurture female leaders within Australian cricket and create pathways for them, both on and off the field.
McGrath was selected for the program alongside Jonassen and five others; Ashleigh Gardner (NSW/Sixers), Nicole Faltum (Victoria/Stars), Heather Graham (Tasmania/Scorchers), Chloe Piparo (WA/Scorchers), and Matilda Lugg (ACT/Sixers).
Alongside that program, Clark has also been privately mentoring Molineux, to prepare her for her first season in charge of the Renegades.
"The last couple of years I've been wanting to learn and expand in that (captaincy) area, and when this opportunity came up, I jumped at it," McGrath said.
"I just want to pick Belinda's brains and get as much out of it as I can, because there's not too many better mentors than Belinda Clark.
"I've (also) tried to take bits and pieces from various captains I've played under.
"My very first captain when I broke into the Scorpions, Lauren Ebsary, was really good from a mentor point of view, she took me under her wing and was really good with creating a good team culture.
"From a tactical point of view, I don't think you can get much better than Meg and Rachael … whenever I'm amongst the Aussie group I'm always watching them and learning."
While Darlington was not part of this year's pilot program, with just one player selected per WNCL side, her leadership potential has been recognised early and she was named NSW Breakers vice-captain last summer.
She led the side on two occasions when usual skipper Healy was unavailable and acquitted herself admirably, earning herself the chance to lead the Thunder.
"It was a really enjoyable experience," Darlington said of her first game in charge of the defending WBBL champions on Saturday.
"Everyone got around me and supported me before the game.
"It's a huge honour. To have this opportunity to step in for Rach, who's been a massive influence on my leadership style, is pretty special and I'm ready to lead a team I'm passionate to be a part of.
"It was an amazing experience to captain the Breakers, that was another dream come true, and I had Rach and other couple of leadership group players out there with me (for those games).
"It definitely was a big learning curve but it prepared me quite well to take on the reins (at the Thunder)."