86,174 spectators at the ground, 1.231 million viewers in Australia, millions more watching from all around the globe. From dancing cricket bats to literal and figurative fireworks, the Women’s World Cup final was quite the spectacle.
Although leading into the tournament as clear favourites, Australia did not have an easy ride to the MCG. Losing to India in the first round, being 3/10 in a must-win match against Sri Lanka, and then losing spearhead Ellyse Perry, created plenty of hurdles for the Australians to overcome.
Both India and Australia had every reason to be overawed by the occasion. This is not something either side had experienced and is impossible to replicate in training. Yet Australia surpassed even their own expectations, producing a special performance that will hold a place in the hearts of millions more than the 11 players that took the field.
While many are frustrated with finals being cancelled or postponed due the coronavirus, the break presents us with some extra time to learn about the mental skills the Australians employed to achieve peak performance when it really mattered.
Photo of the Women’s T20 World Cup Final at the MCG taken by Molly Healy
Basics are best
Australia had a clear intention to keep things as simple and calm as possible leading into the final. When asked how Australia’s batting unit approached the final, Meg Lanning said, “We spoke before we went out to bat about playing good cricket shots to settle the nerves down. Obviously, after the anthems and the crowd roaring and stuff like that emotions are pretty high. So, we actually just spoke about calming the game down, and that first over was the perfect example of that. Healy just played nice shots, she didn’t force anything, it was all natural.”
They accepted that heightened emotions are normal in a high-pressure scenario and as a group came up with a method of managing them.
Sticking to basics also provides the team with a safety net as they know they have repeated these processes a thousands of times before. There is no need to be greater than who you are right now. Trust your current skill set and allow the game to flow from there.
As Bruce Lee said, ‘Simplicity is the key to brilliance.’
Be where your feet are
Battles are often won and lost in moments where there is an opportunity to change the game. Having your focus in the present moment is the key to taking these opportunities when they come.
Both India and Australia had crucial chances presented to them in the early stages of the game, with India dropping two catches in as many overs. Given the inexperience of the Indian cricket team, it is likely that they were more overwhelmed with the sense of occasion and therefore more distracted from the task at hand.
At the key moment of performance, a distracted mind will either be stuck in the past or attempting to predict the future. Dwelling in the past is the most common distraction, particularly if a batter has faced a few dots in a row, or if a bowler has been hit for a few boundaries. The reality is that we can’t change what has happened and that the best way to get a positive result is do the best you can with the next ball. Although we are often taught to be aware of thoughts relevant to fear of failure, over-confidence from past positive performance or being too aggressive trying to be the hero can also take us away from what’s important now.
Another important concept is that there is no such thing as fear in the present moment. Fear generally arises when we worry about the consequences of failing. The root of this often comes from getting too caught up in what others think of us. If you are truly where your feet are, allowing yourself to surrender to the task at hand, there is no chance of your mind wandering off to different possibilities and how they could positively or negatively affect you and the team.
Whether you want to score a ton or produce a game changing spell with the ball, you have to focus on executing your skill, one ball at a time. As Adam Gilchrist on The Test documentary, “Just make the next delivery the most important thing in your life at that point. At that point nothing else matters.”
Article Author Bhavi Devchand playing a slog sweep during an innings for Ringwood CC
Team environment based on love and support
The ability to trust your skills in the moment is much easier said than done. A big part of it comes from knowing that you are still valuable and will be ok even if the result doesn’t go your way.
Credit has to go to Australian coach Matthew Mott and his team for creating an environment where players were encouraged to express themselves irrelevant of outcomes, allowing them to play without fear when it mattered most.
Many questioned Alyssa Healy’s position at the top of the order after a run of low scores leading into the tournament, however Mott backed her up internally and externally. Mott said to the media, “Players like Healy and Gardner aren’t in every team and they can take the game away from the opposition, so you’ve got to continue to back that and have back up policies as well. If you want us to be fearless and all the things we bang on about all the time when you get out a couple of times, you can’t try and reinvent the wheel.”
This view was reiterated by Australian captain Meg Lanning who said, “I’d be more worried if she [Healy] was going out and blocking it for three overs because that’s not her natural game. I’m sure she’ll hit a few in the middle and be off and running.” She also spoke about the batting group turned their poor start around by “celebrating each other’s successes and showing a bit of love to help each other through.”
The keys to building a culture where players could produce their best performance was implemented well before the World Cup. Cricket Australia brought in mindset coach Ben Crowe to help Justin Langer and Matthew Mott create environments that focused on being good people as well as good cricketers.
Rather than their entire self-worth being based on outcomes, it shifted to being more about sticking to their values and being a positive source of energy around the team. This created the base that allowed the team to play with freedom irrelevant of how much there was to lose.
Bhavi Devchand celebrating a wicket with Ringwood CC teammate and Irish International Una Raymond-Hoey
The Australian team we’ve come to know are clinical, professional and serious about getting the job done. They are very good at it, 5 wins out of the last 6 T20 world cups is a testament to that.
Although their approach was the same leading into the final, it seemed like something was missing. A couple of batting collapses against India and Sri Lanka, followed by letting New Zealand make a late run at their big total, had many thinking they might crumble under all the expectation of a home world cup.
How did they turn this around to produce one of the all-time great performances in the final? How were they so dominant against a talented Indian team who were undefeated leading into the final?
For me, the answer was found in a single moment, a close up shot of Alyssa Healy’s face before the first ball was even bowled. What stood out was a massive smile. It was the smile of the little girl inside her that played for the love of the game. She played to express herself irrelevant of what outcomes meant in the future. There was no sign of fear, pressure or even a sense of a warrior going into battle.
It was simply pure, unrestricted joy.
The freedom that flowed from this moment resulted in a dominant powerplay that set the tone for the rest of the game. We saw a team excited about the opportunity to display their skills in front of a huge crowd, rather than fearful of the negative consequences of failure.
The Australians had shifted into a purpose mindset. This is where they shifted from ‘I or we’, or money and status, to intrinsic motivations. Rather, they were playing for that something that lit them up inside, something they believed in and represented a legacy they had to leave the world.
Essentially, they were playing for a reason much bigger than themselves.
That reason included the female cricketers that had gone before them, paying their own way to represent their country, yet paving the way for generations to come. It included the current crop of female cricketers who had been juggling study, work, and part-time contracts, yet training the same hours as the fully professional men.
Perhaps most importantly, that reason included paving the way for young girls and boys with a dream. They showed that if you follow your passion, have a hunger to be better, support your mates and most of all play with joy, the impossible can really become reality.
Matthew Mott summed it up perfectly, “We turned up yesterday to have a celebration. Whatever the result was, we were going to enjoy it.”