Every Australia press conference during the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 has had at least one question on the status of Meg Lanning’s injured shoulder. She has avoided having full nets and only taken throw downs through the competition. Things were no different in the only compulsory session the team had over four days ahead of its semi-final against India in Derby on Thursday.
“I don’t think Meg Lanning needs to be hitting any more balls in the nets,” said Alex Blackwell, the vice-captain. “She will maximise every opportunity she has to prepare. She will have no doubt about her ability to perform tomorrow. She’s great, chirpy as ever. She has had a great tournament hitting the ball beautifully. I don’t know what the team is tomorrow. We are looking forward to having our best team out possible.”
Lanning is the only batter to average more than 100 in this tournament. Her 328 runs in five innings include an unbeaten 76 against India. In that game, Lanning and Ellyse Perry had an unbroken third-wicket stand of 124 runs at a fair pace to chase down 227 and book a semi-final berth for Australia. The way the duo used their feet against the spinners stood out, something that will again come to the fore on Thursday.
“The Indian bowling attack is dangerous if you allow them to bowl to you. They have got some excellent spinners, spinners who don’t necessarily give you a lot of flight to get down and hit the ball where you want to hit it,” explained Blackwell. “You have got to respond to the length they bowl, look to play both off the front foot and the back foot. Players have looked to react to the ball that’s been delivered by these spinners and look to play off both front and back foot, and perhaps also look to use different guards and put the spinners off their line.
"Everyone has a different approach as to how they play and I think that's one of the strengths of the line-up we have -- you’ve got players who do different things. The way Ellyse Perry has been playing, really controlling the innings through the middle, and then you’ve got really aggressive players like Elyse Villani. She’s devastating against spin. I’m looking forward to seeing her take it to India tomorrow."
Australia is the favourite against India, and is expected to play the final against England in front of 26,500 people at Lord’s on July 23. Blackwell said it was important to win the semi-final before thinking about the excitement of playing for the trophy in front of a packed house.
"I think this tournament was always going to be one of the biggest I have been part of and we all recognise that England was going to host us very well,” she said. “I think the ICC and England have put on a really good tournament that would be an amazing event and one of our biggest supporters in Belinda Clark who has been watching our progress, one of her biggest pieces of advice going into the tournament was 'win the semi'. So hopefully we'll do that tomorrow.
“We are just looking forward to playing at Derby tomorrow and not getting too far ahead. As we said from the very beginning, it was going to be a very interesting tournament having to play everyone once. Now we get to play India twice. And hopefully, we get to play England twice!
“But we just can't look too far ahead. It has been a great event. I really enjoyed, in particular, the match against England. Although we lost, it was one of the standout days of this tournament for me. Just because it was a great crowd there. It was a brilliant contest right down to the last ball. Although sometimes it is a bit nerve-wracking as players to have games like that, I think that's what everyone wants to see, really close contests. And tomorrow, we'll just have to wait and see. But we need to make sure that we bring our best game tomorrow."
Blackwell is a veteran of close to 15 years of international experience, and two of her three One-Day International centuries have come against India. Having played 27 games against India so far, she said that the current team is one of the best.
"I'm very impressed with the way India have played in this tournament from the very beginning," she said. "They were very proactive as a team and they have brought a more proactive approach to their batting in particular. They are a team that with the ball, I think, can put a lot of pressure on if you are not proactive as a batter.
“So they have always had strength there. But the way that they have lifted their game with their aggressive approach to their batting, they are a very dangerous unit. I thought the way Poonam Raut batted against us, she timed her innings beautifully (to make a hundred) and it will be a matter of whether they can create really strong partnerships so we will be looking to minimise those partnerships throughout."