Some of the Aussies visited Kaieteur Falls in Guyana.
Some of the Aussies visited Kaieteur Falls in Guyana.

‘Fearless’ Aussies have eyes on silverware

The harshest glare had exposed the supposed titans of women's cricket and Australia had nowhere to hide.

The best team in the world had let another trophy slip as India - and their superstar Harmanpreet Kaur - belted them out of the 2017 World Cup in England.

West Indies had done the same to the Australians the year before in the T20 World Cup.

It had to stop.

"I think it was a realisation that if we keep playing in the same way - we were pretty conservative and we were just trying to back our skills to get over most teams - that we were going to fall back into the pack," Australia coach Matthew Mott said.

"When we were under pressure, when teams came hard at us, we were sort of like rabbits in headlights, with the ball in particular.

"We actually let it go for a while and then we had a meeting at the National Cricket Campus and just played the vision of that innings (in the India game) without any music or anything and we all sat through it together.

"It was almost like we'd hit rock bottom … from that point on it was, 'OK, well, what are we going to do better next time?'"

The review into Australia's World Cup flop co-opted West Australian Cricket Association chief executive Christina Matthews and former Australian captain Lisa Sthalekar. But it was the team that knew it had to change.

"It allowed us to just pause and say, 'OK, what is it that we want to stand for as a team," Australia vice-captain Rachael Haynes said.

"What's important to us?"

Three key trademarks were agreed upon: being fearless, a team-first approach and being informed and accountable.

"Fearless in our style of play … and off the field we want to be a team that is happy to celebrate … likewise we want to ensure that our environment encourages people to speak up when something is not right," Haynes said.

"It's making sure, in your decision making, what is in the best interests of the team here, rather than the best interest of myself.

"We want to be the best team in the world."

A strike-rate policy was introduced and if you're not rating at 120 runs per 100 balls or better,

you're not in the top order.

All-rounder Sophie Molineux did a DJ set at a school visit in Guyana.
All-rounder Sophie Molineux did a DJ set at a school visit in Guyana.

Head selector Shawn Flegler said it meant star all-rounder and sometime opener Ellyse Perry now bats at No.7.

"You'll see Pez has slid down the order … anyone who's not going at 120-plus, well, it's just the pecking order," Flegler said.

"It's pretty simple and we were really clear.

"She has the ability to do it, absolutely she does, but until she does it that's where she's going to be."

The egos have been left at the door.

"In T20, we were being beaten by teams that weren't as good as us and I think that sparked something in the playing group: we can't keep playing like this," Mott said.

"If we want to be the best in the world, then we have to change.

"(Captain) Meg (Lanning) and Rach in particular, two senior players, they're prepared to bat at five and six if need be; that just takes all ego out of it.

"You've got your senior leaders saying, 'I'm going to do what's best for the team, I'd much rather open or bat at No.3 but I can see the value of me batting in the middle order'.

"It's very hard for other players to say, 'Well, hang on, I should be batting higher' because the best batter in the world in Meg Lanning has said I think it's best for the team if I bat lower."

Players are rewarded for their impact, not just runs scored and wickets taken. Beth Mooney's partnerships with dynamo Alyssa Healy are highly valued. Delissa Kimmince's work in the field earns plaudits as does a late-innings cameo.

The Australian dressing room is also more welcoming. Before, coming into this Australian team wasn't as easy. One player said when she was selected for Australia in the past she worried where she would fit in the group. Now, she has no such fears.

The connection between players is obvious. On a trip to a local school in Guyana last week, the entire squad was involved in impromptu DJ and dance session. They genuinely enjoy themselves and each other's company.

It's the same at training too, when they happily rib each other during football-drill warm-ups when "Eddie" has to clean up after a mistake by "Dusty".

On their day off this week, the players did what they liked. A few went to the spectacular Kaieteur Falls - an hour's flight by small plane into the Amazon rainforest - while others stayed by the pool.

"That's what's been so unique about our group at the moment, everyone enjoys spending time together," Healy said.

"Naturally, especially in female sport, there's always going to be cliques and whatnot, but I guess it's about how that's perceived and how that's managed.

"I can genuinely say there isn't really any cliques in this side, everyone just floats around with one another and gets along really well.

Alyssa Healy has been the star of the show thus far in the Caribbean.
Alyssa Healy has been the star of the show thus far in the Caribbean.

"There's groups doing the puzzle, PlayStation, there's plenty of people to hang out with and you just end up drifting to whatever you feel like doing. It's a pretty cool side to be a part of.

"I think that definitely contributes to the way we're playing. Everyone plays for one another. People are sacrificing wickets just to go harder, to push the boundaries.

"There's something special going on at the moment."

A World T20 title would validate this team's fresh approach.

"We haven't won anything yet, that's the thing," Flegler said.

"I'd love to see them win. All the work that's taken place to this point, it just feels like they need to win to totally believe."

The damning Flagstaff review into Cricket Australia has hurt the national game, full stop. But Mott hopes the women's team can help rescue cricket from the mire.

"We have got an opportunity to be a good news story and get a few smiles on the Australian cricket public's faces," he said.

"That's a big motivating factor."

 

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