Matthew Mott, the Australia coach, has indicated that Meg Lanning, the team’s captain, would return for the team's big ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 clash against England in Bristol on Sunday, but her subsequent participation would depend on a match-by-match assessment.
Lanning, the leading ODI run-scorer in the past few years and who starred with a 135-ball 152 in Australia’s win over Sri Lanka earlier in the competition, sat out of the game against Pakistan after aggravating a chronic shoulder injury.
The injury had caused her to miss last year’s Super League in England as well.
Mott said his captain would have a couple of days off training, and he was “very hopeful” she would return for Sunday.
“It’s quite painful,” he said of the injury. “She hasn’t been able to throw, most people know this, for the last eight-nine months. That’s been hard for her but she’s a very tough character.”
Her absence wasn’t a big shock to the team, who have always expected to change their squad around given the nature of the tournament, the nature of the opposition and the injuries players may be carrying. Mott described it as a “conservative decision” and he expected Lanning to be fine going forward.
“We’ve been managing her for the last couple of months. The shoulder’s been giving her a bit of grief. It’s not great but Kate Mahony, our physio, has been exceptional in her communication and how she can manage it,” he said. “We’d always envisioned she’s going to miss a game or two during the tournament just to manage the shoulder.”
With Lanning sidelined, Australia handed Rachael Haynes her first game of the tournament, and also the captaincy. Haynes had come back into the side after a gap of three and a half years as a last-minute call-up for the New Zealand series at the start of the year.
That she was handed leadership responsibilities over the likes of Alex Blackwell, the vice-captain, who has led the side to a World T20 title, and Ellyse Perry, who has been a consistent performer for the team and a WBBL captain, came as a surprise. The Australian management, however, said it had been the plan all through.
“That’s something we’ve spoken about as a group ever since Meg’s shoulder was in a bit of doubt. Back in Australia we assessed all our options. We feel Alex Blackwell is an outstanding vice-captain. We felt that Rachael was similar in her style to Meg and that leadership model was something we wanted to keep together. She’s had success with Victoria back in the day.
“One of the reasons we got her back in the squad was her leadership and what she brings to the team. You could see that we’re under the pump a little bit and she showed a nice cool head and batted really well. Her captaincy was excellent as well. She’s going to be a captain of the future. We have to play things by ear with Meg, how long she can keep persisting with this shoulder injury.
“We spoke to Alex six weeks ago. Of course she wanted to be captain, but the way she’s handled the situation has been exceptional. She’s an ultimate team player and she understands the reasons why we’ve gone with that model. She’s just trying to bring everything she can to the vice-captaincy, and she continues to do that.”
Haynes herself, who stabilised the innings against Pakistan with Perry from 7 for 2, said it didn’t take her by surprise. “I’ve known for a couple of days. I don’t think it’s been any secret that Meg’s been carrying an injury. Our team knew this could be a possibility. There’s any number of leaders who could have come out and captained this team, so I feel very fortunate that it was me and it was a great experience,” she said after the match on Wednesday.
With Lanning out and Pakistan making early inroads into the batting, the Australian middle order, which hasn’t had to do much all tournament, finally had a taste of pressure. Elyse Villani and Alyssa Healy soaked it in well to bring up brisk half-centuries.
“A few of the top order would have liked to bat a bit deeper,” said Mott. “Looking back on the game, it was probably a game we were craving for our middle order players who haven’t had a lot of opportunities yet. So to see Villani and Healy get into the spirit of the game was very good. And they played with a lot of freedom.”