With final preparations for the T20 World Cup about to get into full swing Matthew Mott, the head coach of Australia’s women’s team, has recalled the conversations more than two years ago that set them on their way to becoming the dominant force in the game. It has made them big favourites for more silverware and also meant they carry the expectations of helping build a record-breaking crowd for the final at the MCG.
When Mott signed a new contract in 2017 the T20 game was a major focus with Australia having lost the T20 World Cup final against West Indies in 2016. Mott’s new deal came in the middle of some spluttering T20 form which saw them lose a series to New Zealand 2-1 – including being bowled out for 66 in Adelaide – then the disappointment of seeing England level the multi-point Ashes with victory in the T20 series.
However, since January 2018 their T20 record is formidable: 26 matches, 23 wins, 3 defeats. Along the way they won the 2018 T20 World Cup – defeating England in the final in Antigua – and there have been plenty of hefty margins of victory with the last six matches against Sri Lanka and West Indies not being close.
In one-day cricket it’s been even more impressive with the team stringing together a world record 18 wins in a row and it was a defeat in that format, in the semi-final of the 2017 World Cup when Harmanpreet Kaur played one of the great innings with 171 not out, that was the catalyst for Australia to look at how they were playing.
“Being knocked out of the 2017 [50-over] World Cup had a total transformational impact on our group,” Mott told ESPNcricinfo. “Up until then we’d been playing good cricket – probably better one-day cricket and so-so T20 cricket. It was a real eye-opener that we’d play okay and one player took the game away from us. What it showed is that if we keep operating in a safe environment then teams will come at us hard. We had a review leading into the Ashes back here and it was really player driven, we needed to be more fearless.”
With a focus on the T20 game, which Mott believed needed the most attention, he encouraged the batters to release the shackles and broaden their minds as to what was possible.
“Our depth is incredible, especially the batting, at times all of our top eight have opened in the Big Bash. The biggest shift was the value of wickets,” he said. “That’s why we experimented with the order, the way the team embraced that and didn’t fear losing wickets, that’s been the biggest change.
“With our bowling, in that match [the World Cup semi-final] a number of players admitted they were like rabbits in headlights and didn’t have a plan B. When we got belted a bit by [Chamari] Atapattu this season the players went to plan B, rather than just keep serving up the same stuff. It was a willingness to embrace that in T20 you will be under the pump but take a more aggressive option. It has exceeded expectations from where we were – winning 55% of games to close to 90 so that’s a huge uplift – but we’ll be coming up against the top teams so we have to continue that sort of form.”
One player to epitomise Australia’s approach is Alyssa Healy. Since January 2018 she has made 950 runs at 45.23 and a strike-rate of 155.48 including a world record unbeaten 148 against Sri Lanka.
“We thought we could achieve that consistency. Knowing that the way we were being supported and being full-time cricketers there was an expectation on us to better than what we were,” Healy told ESPNcricinfo. “Having those discussions at that time was probably the right thing and for us we’ve learnt from that and our T20 cricket has gone to another level.”
For all their dominance over the last 18 months, Healy knows that it is what happens from mid-February that will really matter and, within the squad as a whole, there won’t be any shying away from what is at stake.
“For us to be consistent in a format that’s really hard to do that is pleasing for us, but it all doesn’t really matter if we aren’t standing there on March 8 at the MCG. We’ve tried to park it but it’s been hard to do. Everyone has been talking about it, it’s obviously a big thing so it’s hard to shy away from it.
“The more we talk about the pressure and expectation and share it among each other, the better off we’ll be. Come mid-February, when all eyes are on the World Cup, we’ll just revel in what an event it will be, enjoy that experience, but also make sure we have our eyes on the right prize.”
That is the message that Mott will be passing down to the final squad of 15 which will be announced on Thursday in Melbourne. “Let’s embrace the expectation,” he said. “It’s a privilege not afforded to too many and rather than fearing it, it should drive us. We have enough experience in the squad and the young players are fearless. This tournament is not one to worry about, we have to go out and grab it. This is the time of your lives.”
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