Meg Lanning is set to break new ground, becoming just the third woman to captain her country in 150 matches across all formats when she leads Australia out in the Ashes Test at Manuka Oval.
On Thursday morning, she will join an exclusive club, with England great Charlotte Edwards (220) and India’s current ODI captain Mithali Raj (183 matches) the only players to have skippered their nations on more occasions.
Since taking over the top job from Jodie Fields in 2014 aged 21 – becoming the youngest player to captain Australia in the process – Lanning has led her country to three T20 World Cup wins and two away Ashes series victories.
Most matches captained across all women’s formats:
But there are two achievements currently missing from the 29-year-old’s resume, and the Victorian has the chance to tick off both across the next two-and-a-half months.
First, she can captain her side to an Ashes win on home soil for the first time.
Then, Lanning will take her squad across the Tasman for the ODI World Cup, where Australia will look to make amends for their shock semi-final exit at the 2017 edition in the United Kingdom.
A multi-format Ashes and a one-day World Cup are two demanding tours in isolation, let alone running back-to-back.
When a similar situation occurred on the men’s calendar in 2019, neither Australia nor England had the same leader for both contests.
But like Lanning, English skipper Heather Knight is also facing arguably her greatest challenge to date; trying to win back the Ashes for the first time since taking over from Edwards as leader in 2016, and defending the one-day World Cup title her side claimed a year later.
What already seemed an imposing task leading into the summer has become even tougher amid the current COVID-19 climate, with changing schedules, tight restrictions and an impending 10-day quarantine in New Zealand thrown into the mix.
Most matches captained by Australian women across all formats:
This is Lanning’s first full, and official, home Ashes as Australian captain. She stepped up to replace an injured Fields midway through the 2013-14 edition – won by England – before being appointed to the full-time job in 2014.
She then missed the 2017-18 edition as she recovered from shoulder surgery, with Rachael Haynes filling the role in a series than ended tied at eight points apiece.
“For me, personally, I’m looking forward to that,” Lanning told cricket.com.au ahead of the summer when asked if back-to-back Ashes and an ODI World Cup presented her greatest challenge yet.
“You want to play against the best teams and challenge yourself, and it certainly will challenge my leadership on and off the field.
“I feel like that’s a really good thing… it’s going to be important for me to make sure I’m fit and firing at the important times, and identifying (times) where I can try and check out a bit from everything thats going on, so I can put all my energy into the times when I need to.
“I’m lucky to be able to lead the team into this sort of season.”
Lanning has already been putting those words into practice; she took a month off following the end of the Weber WBBL | 07, sitting out Victoria’s opening two matches of the domestic 50-over season.
Her break came after a prolonged period on the road that started when Australia’s Melbourne- and Sydney-based players entered quarantine in late August and ended with the completion of WBBL | 07 in November.
It turned into a longer break than anticipated when Victoria’s two January WNCL fixtures were postponed, but Lanning has started the Ashes in inspired fashion, hitting a fifty in a warm-up fixture before scoring 64 not out in the opening T20I after taking on the opening spot left vacant by the injured Beth Mooney.
“I feel in a really good spot with my game,” Lanning said on Saturday, after the second Ashes T20 was washed out.
“I think having a break in December was a really good thing for me… more mentally than anything I was just ready for a break and time to switch off.
“Coming back into a really big series off no cricket with the WNCL unfortunately postponed, you do have a few nerves and doubts I guess, but that practice game actually played a really big role for me, just knowing that I was ready to go.
“It’s always nice to start series off well, but for me I’m pretty keen to have a big impact on this series as a whole.”
Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes v England
Australia Ashes squad: Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Stella Campbell, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes (vc), Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Meg Lanning (c), Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland
England Ashes squad: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Maia Bouchier, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Tash Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver (vc), Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers , Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danni Wyatt
Australia lead the multi-format series 4-2
Jan 20: Australia won by nine wickets
Jan 22: No Result
Jan 23: Match Abandoned without a ball bowled
Jan 27-30: Test match, Manuka Oval, 10am AEDT,
Feb 3: First ODI, Manuka Oval (D / N), 2.10pm AEDT
Feb 6: Second ODI, Junction Oval, 10.05am AEDT
Feb 8: Third ODI, Junction Oval, 10.05am AEDT