At what point does a team go from being the greatest of its generation to one of the greatest of all time? Come Sunday against England, Australia’s women’s cricketers could well provide the answer.
For 1718 days since their 2017 World Cup semi-final loss to India, Australia have had eyes for Sunday’s 50-over final in New Zealand. While the external focus was on filling the MCG on March 8 in 2020, internally there has been just as much thought about the decider in Christchurch.
In the time since their 2017 semi-final loss Australia have not dropped a series in any format, as close as perfect as one team can be. They’ve also made a point to reshape the game, more ruthless with the bat up top and putting a focus on more change-up options with the ball.
“This date has been in the back of our minds for a while,” star wicketkeeper-bat Alyssa Healy said. “Especially after 2017, it was the reinvention of our side. Even if we don’t lift the trophy, being in the final justifies the hard work and how we play the game. Tomorrow is exactly where we should be, and I hope we play our best cricket, because that’s where we deserve to be.”
Comparing eras is hard, and comparing genders even harder. But in terms of cold-hard stats, Matthew Mott’s team with Meg Lanning at the helm is the most dominant in cricket history.
At their peak, the West Indies men went 10 series undefeated between 1980 and 1983. Australia’s golden men’s age of the late 1990s and early 2000s went 18 straight between 2002 and 2004.
This women’s team now sits at 21 straight series without defeat, a figure also unmatched in the women’s game. Included in that run are three successful retentions of the Ashes, two Twenty20 World Cup wins and a record 26-game winning streak in ODI cricket.
All that is missing is a one-day World Cup trophy.
“We kind of have sat back along the journey and reflected,” Healy said. “We enjoy our success, which we should. And what’s so good about our group is every time we win a game or series we are building to the next one.”
Notably they have done it well aware of the legacy they are creating, not just for the global female game but the professionalism of women’s sport across Australia. If cricket can produce one of the most marketable and successful teams with a highly-watched professional domestic league below them, why can’t all other top-tier sports?
“We really are (aware of that), and that’s also what makes this group great to be part of,” Healy said. “We’re conscious of how we’re continuing to grow the game and make it better for the next generation.
“It doesn’t add pressure, it’s just go out and enjoy yourself. That will get just as good a result for the next generation [as] smashing the other team off the park.”
Healy’s point of building to the next tournament again begs the question though: How long can it go on?
A win in Sunday’s final would mean every trophy is regained after they dropped the T20 and 50-over tournaments in 2016 and 2017. For most senior players, every box would be ticked.
A Commonwealth Games looms later this year, while next year features another T20 World Cup in South Africa and an Ashes in England.
“It’s a good question. I don’t know (what’s ahead or what the next goal is),” Healy, 32, said. “Maybe tomorrow is an opportunity to reflect on what we have done and given ourselves the time to actually appreciate what we’ve done.
“We always seem to be striving for perfection and looking for the next thing… but no-one is really talking about it. People want to be in this moment now.”
Healy is living a series at a time. “That’s not suggesting I will retire anytime soon, I’m just assessing as I go,” she added. “(The next 50-over World Cup) is only three years away, but three years is a long time in the women’s game at the moment. I will hopefully get my hands on the trophy tomorrow night so I don’t have to think about playing in three years time.”
Rachael Haynes is aged 35 and has conceded it is unlikely she’ll be around for next year’s Ashes. Ellyse Perry will be 34 at the next tournament in 2025 while Lanning would be 33 and the most likely to still be playing.
But the reality is, the all-conquering women’s team will at some point face the same kind of challenge the men did when Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer all retired in 2007.
Future planning has begun, but coach Mott is confident the end is not nigh.
“We’ve got a lot still to achieve,” he said. “I don’t sense that anyone’s looking at this as the last one or the final frontier. I think there’s enough there for people, a carrot that’s dangled in front of them, but you never know. I just hope that everyone goes in this final with the opportunity to really enjoy it. And if there are people (considering retirement), they take the time to reflect afterwards and see what they want to do.”
A reflection that should include placing them at the top of the all-time great teams.