Meg Lanning’s press conferences are like her innings: Clinical. Little gets a reaction out of her. So the momentary look of surprise on her face when it was put to her that Australia’s slip-ups in the last two world events were because international players who featured in the Women’s Big Bash League had batted it out of the tournaments was, well, a surprise.
Last year, the Windies’ Hayley Matthews and Stafanie Taylor had denied it a record fourth ICC World Twenty20 title. On Thursday, India’s Harmanpreet Kaur made a spectacular 171 not out in 115 balls to cut short the champions’ defence of the ICC Women’s World Cup.
Harmanpreet was part of Sydney Thunder for the second WBBL, the first Indian to be signed. After a memorable debut, she averaged almost 60 and was striking at 116.99 with 11 sixes. Her 12 innings included seven unbeaten efforts, and she also picked up nine wickets.
Mithali Raj, the India captain, identified her vice-captain’s participation in Australia’s domestic T20 league as the biggest marker of her transformation as a batter since her debut back in 2009 against the same side.
“The transformation was after she played in the WBBL. That exposure gave her and Smriti (Mandhana, who was a part of Brisbane Heat) a lot of knowledge from interacting with other players,” said Raj speaking to presspersons after India’s 36-run win. “Against Australia, it was they who were giving us inputs about these players. If more players are a part of these leagues, where they exchange ideas and follow the routine of other players, being part of the meetings, it will only improve the standard of women’s cricket.”
“There’s no doubt the WBBL is a great competition and it has attracted the best players around the world to it. So, I guess it does expose them to high quality cricket under pressure,” said Lanning.
“But they are all world-class players who are able to take it away from you on the day, and unfortunately that happened to us over the last couple of World Cups.”
The WBBL allowed Australian cricketers, too, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the best international players, so it would work both ways, added Lanning. “You’ve just got to adapt, that’s the key. Making sure you keep improving your game so that you are one step ahead.”
Back in January after her stint down under, Harmanpreet had identified the aggressive, positive approach from players even when the chips were down as an important takeaway for her. Now, she was more bashful. “I always love to play against Australia because they are a very good side and when you score against a good side it’ll always give you confidence,” she said. “In WBBL, I enjoyed because I had a really good team. They always gave me good confidence and my captain (Alex) Blackwell, she’s a very motivated girl and she always appreciated my innings. It was great fun for me to play at Thunder.”
Blackwell, who made a fighting 90 off 56 balls, was happy to have the Indian all-rounder back if she could. “I hope so, I’m not sure!” she said about Harmanpreet returning to the side for WBBL 3. “Once I land back in Sydney I’m sure we’ll have to start talking about contracts and that sort of thing. She was a pleasure to have in Sydney Thunder in WBBL 2 and I just hope to see her in the WBBL, full stop; and in Sydney Thunder would be great.”
After the World Cup, Harmanpreet will join the Australian contingent of Ellyse Perry, Elyse Villani, Beth Mooney, Jess Jonassen, Kristen Beams and Rene Farrell for the second edition of the Super League in England, starting August 10. India will hope the stint with Surrey Stars will take her batting to the next level, and that more young prospects can join her in the next few years.