Meg Lanning: Australia's captain hoping to become a five-time world champion

By Amy LofthouseBBC Sport in Melbourne
Meg Lanning
Meg Lanning has dragged her team to the final with both her batting exploits and peerless captaincy
Women's T20 World Cup final: India v Australia
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground Date: Sunday, 8 March Time: 07:00 GMT
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sport website & app; in-play highlights (UK only) & live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app

Meg Lanning is a four-time world champion, a three-time Ashes winner and she has more one-day centuries than any other female player.

And she's still just 27-years-old.

On Sunday, Lanning will lead Australia out in front of at least 75,000 people at the MCG as she and her side bid to beat India and win their fifth T20 World Cup title.

Nicknamed Serious Sally by her teammates for her level-headedness, Lanning cuts a steely figure on the field.

The closest she has come to being over-animated was smashing her bat into her leg when she was dismissed against New Zealand in Australia's must-win group game in Melbourne.

On the field, the brim of the hat pulled down low, arms crossed, Lanning analyses everything. A quiet word with the bowler here, a slight fielding change there; all of it is marshalled by the inscrutable captain.

"She's actually really soft!" England spinner Alex Hartley, who played with Lanning in Melbourne seven years ago, told BBC Sport.

"She's not hard to get to know. What you see is really what you get.

"When it was raining during Australia's semi-final against South Africa, she was signing autographs, chatting to kids. That's not a front - that is genuinely her. It is just what she's like."

If Australia win on Sunday, Lanning will be the third captain to lift a World Cup trophy on home soil, yet she never harboured captaincy ambitions as a youngster.external-link

There was no girls cricket team at Carey Grammar in Melbourne, where Lanning went to school.

By the time she reached year seven, Lanning was playing in competitions for the boy's team at her school. She was the first girl to do so. The only girl on the pitch.

It got the usual press attention, and Lanning got the usual comments and looks at the games. But she ignored all that - as she told ABC,external-link she couldn't understand why it was such a big deal - and carried on playing until year 12.

She made her international debut aged 18. In just her second match for Australia, she hit her maiden one-day century, a superb 103 from 148 balls, becoming the youngest Australia to achieve such a feat.

Hartley played for Box Hill Cricket Club, Lanning's club in Victoria, in 2012, when Lanning's Australia career was starting to take off.

"She was playing international cricket but she always came down to training and played every single club game," Hartley said.

"She was at training; bowling, batting, helping all the kids out. I thought it was amazing."

Meg Lanning
Meg Lanning is always one of the first to meet fans, sign autographs and take selfies

The records have come thick and fast for Lanning. She's the first Australian, male or female, to score 2,000 runs in T20 internationals. The fastest player, male or female, to score 13 ODI centuries. She posted the highest T20 score by a woman, an astonishingly brutal 133 from 63 balls against a beleaguered England last year.

There's a sense of inevitability when Lanning comes to the crease with the pressure on her side.

When Australia were 10-3 against Sri Lanka in the group stages, having just lost to India, it was Lanning who strode out in front of a shellshocked Waca.

Sure, she benefited from some baffling tactics from Sri Lanka, and at least two dropped catches. But she was calm. She worked the singles. Accelerated towards the end. Developed a partnership with vice-captain Rachael Haynes.

Australia won by five wickets. They are now in the final. It sounds absurdly simple, but Lanning is the backbone of this team.

"She's the ultimate clutch player," says Australia opener Beth Mooney. "She's got this steely look in her face and when you're in the opposition, as I have been in Big Bash and domestic cricket, it's not a good sight to see."

No player has a better record in knockout T20 matches than her. In the nine semi-finals and finals she has been involved in, she has scored 322 runs. Her closest competitor is Charlotte Edwards, with 175 runs.

In the 50-over World Cup in 2017,external-link a tournament which would see Australia thrashed in the semi-finals and spark a new determination among the players, Lanning walked out for the toss with West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor.

Taylor called correctly. She told Lanning and the match referee that West Indies would bat first. But, in the interview with Ian Bishop, she changed her mind.

Lanning did not realise at first. When she did, she was annoyed.

She spoke to the match referee, who called Taylor back to the middle. Taylor stood her ground. So did Lanning.

In the end, it was decided that Taylor's original call would stand; West Indies would have to bat first.

Australia won by eight wickets.

There's a cliche with women in the public eye. They are expected to be polite, to want to win, but confidence, or over-ambition, is seen as too aggressive. Too unlikeable.

Lanning is many things. She's warm. She's determined. She's single-minded in her desire to win. She's, ultimately, human - and will arguably go down as one of Australia's greatest captains.