Australia: Australian women's cricket captain Meg Lanning eyes golden silverware at Commonwealth Games

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Australian captain Meg Lanning is eyeing off Commonwealth Games gold. (Supplied: Oisin Keniry) © Provided by ABC Grandstand Australian captain Meg Lanning is eyeing off Commonwealth Games gold. (Supplied: Oisin Keniry)

Australia already holds both the one-day and T20 Women's World Cup trophies, as well as the Women's Ashes. Still, Meg Lanning is hungry for more.

The captain of the world's number one side will enter unchartered territory on July 29 when she leads her team out onto the field at Edgbaston for the opening match of the Commonwealth Games.

The T20 format makes its debut in Birmingham, as do the women, as the sport returns to the event for the first time since 1998 when a men's 50-over competition was staged in Kuala Lumpur.

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Back then, Steve Waugh's Australian side had to settle for silver after being outclassed by South Africa in the final. Twenty-four years later, Lanning is hoping to go one further and clinch gold.

She's acutely aware this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, considering there's no guarantee T20 cricket will be included at the next Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 2026.

The International Cricket Council has also been campaigning to get the sport back onto the Olympics program for Los Angeles 2028, but that's six years down the track and who knows where she'll be by then.

"Certainly, the aim is to win gold," Lanning told the ABC.

"I remember watching a lot of the swimming and hockey at the Commonwealth Games growing up and really loving the teamwork of the Australian athletes across a range of sports, but because cricket was never really a part of it, I didn't expect to be able to get this chance myself.

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"As a group we're looking to embrace this opportunity because being part of a wider Australian team is new for us, and it might not be something we ever get to do again."

Should the cricketers fulfil their potential and make the final on August 7, Australia could be vying for multiple medals in women's teams sports on the one day, with finals for the hockey, beach volleyball and netball all scheduled to take place.

India, the sleeping giant

So, who stands in their way?

Australia will face India, Barbados (representing the West Indies) and Pakistan in the group stages and although the Aussies head in as favourites – having already beaten most of the countries competing at the Commonwealth Games in their successful one-day World Cup campaign just four months ago – Lanning says it's important the team don't become complacent.

"We've got a pretty tough group stage that we'll need to get through, so it's not going to be easy by any means," she said.

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"It's a similar set-up to a World Cup in that there's not much room for error, you've got to play good cricket from the get-go and India will certainly be a test first-up.

"The West Indies are also a dangerous team and Pakistan provide a different challenge because they bowl a lot of spin and are skilful, so we certainly need to be playing well from the very start."

Australia are the current T20 world champions, however, the unpredictability of the format means nothing is guaranteed.

Even during the team's exceptional period of dominance in one-day cricket from October 2017 to September 2021, where they set a world record winning streak by claiming 26 matches in a row, Australia were unable to replicate that kind of consecutive success in the shorter white-ball format.

The T20 ledger was still well in their favour during that time, 36 wins — 10 losses, but because they've dropped a game here and there, other countries will know they are susceptible in this format.

One particular loss that seems to haunt the Australians is the opening match of the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup, where the hosts suffered a 17-run upset against India to start their campaign on the back foot.

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The pace of Shikha Pandey (3/14) and legspin from Poonam Yadav (4/19) saw Australia lose nine of their batters for single digits and although they got their revenge in the final and have since beaten India in a multi-format series in late 2021, the reality check they received that night still lingers in the back of their minds.

Surprisingly, India have since dropped Pandey, while Yadav was named in the wider squad for the Commonwealth Games but not the main team. Even without these superstars, Lanning believes India are the team to beat.

"We've experienced that unpredictability in T20s over the years, where one player can take the game away from you within a couple of overs," Lanning said.

"India are a bit of a sleeping giant, they've performed well in big tournaments lately and have some real match-winners in their side, so that first match against them is going to be important.

"Hopefully it's us with the gold at the end, but if not, they'll give it a good challenge."

Australian players to watch

While England has been experiencing a heatwave, Australia's preparations in Ireland have largely been disrupted by rain.

Taking part in a T20 International Tri-series in Bready, the team remained undefeated and topped the group with 12 points to win the tournament after they beat Ireland twice and had to abandon both of their matches against Pakistan due to wet weather.

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Because of this (as well as Australia's strength chasing totals), the middle order will head into the Games a little underdone, considering the team were only forced to play deeper than their top two to three batters in one out of three innings.

It also marks a bit of an unfortunate pattern for the Australians when it comes to the weather, with four of their seven T20 Internationals scheduled so far in 2022 rained off.

Luckily, the bowlers have had ample time to practice.

Fast-bowler Megan Schutt became the second Australian to reach the milestone of 100 T20I wickets during the series, joining the elite company of Ellyse Perry who currently sits on 115.

Whilst legspinner Alanna King has been thriving in the northern hemisphere conditions, taking eight scalps at an economy rate of 3.83 to be declared the player of the series.

"Alana has been amazing since she made her debut in the Ashes in January and in this tournament she's been excellent too," Lanning said.

"She's got some really good variation and is turning the ball, but also attacking the stumps, and that really puts the doubt in the batter's mind, so she'll play a massive role for us in the Commonwealth Games."

When she did get a chance to bat, Tahlia McGrath (70) was another stand-out, forging a 140-run partnership with Lanning (74) in Australia's second match against Ireland.

It's the second time the all-rounder has built a big total alongside the captain this year and the fourth time she's claimed a T20I player of the match award.

"Tahlia has become a really important player for us, because she has this ability to get the game moving, she's a boundary hitter and is not afraid to take a risk," Lanning said.

"As a batter at the other end that gives you a lot of confidence that you can just continue to play your natural game as well, so she takes pressure off.

"Although she has been in and out of the team over the years, Tahlia really believes she belongs at this level now and that confidence means she's playing with freedom."

Commonwealth Games fixtures

Friday, July 29, 8pm AEST – Australia vs India at Edgbaston

Sunday, August 1, 3am AEST – Australia vs Barbados at Edgbaston

Wednesday, August 3, 8pm AEST – Australia vs Pakistan at Edgbaston

Saturday, August 6, 8pm / Sunday 7 August 3am AEST– Semi-finals at Edgbaston

Sunday, August 7, 7pm AEST – Bronze medal match at Edgbaston

Monday, August 8, 2am AEST – Gold medal match at Edgbaston

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