A world record built from pain: How shock losses in 2017 spurred the Southern Stars on to greatness

The record breaking Australian Women's cricket team after their 22nd consecutive ODI victory at Mt Maunganui yesterday. Image: @AusWomensCricket. Twitter

It was another bitter pill for the Southern Stars to swallow.

Without their world-conquering captain and batting superstar in Meg Lanning, Australia’s national women’s cricket team had plummeted to another one-day loss in late October 2017. This time, it was to the old enemy, led by an ultra-aggressive Heather Knight and a nagging bowling attack that refused to allow Australia to score freely. It may have only been one game, but for the Southern Stars, it was an eerie reminder of another dark day.

Just over three months prior, a single batter tore the heart out of the Stars. The Australian unit looked on track to reach another one-day World Cup title, barrelling their way to the semi-finals. Bowling first against constant nemesis India, early wickets brought out Harmanpreet Kaur.

The soon-to-be Indian captain was known for her attacking prowess, but this July 2017 knock created a cult following. At 2/37, Kaur blitzed the likes of Megan Schutt, Ellyse Perry, Jess Jonassen, and Kristen Beams for a mind-boggling 171 not out. Off only 115 balls. 20 fours and seven sixes rained down on Derby’s County Ground as Kaur led India to a substantial total of 4/281 off 42 rain-affected overs. In response, Australia was left tethered to their back foot, rooted in shock by what they had just seen.

Usually, it was the Southern Stars who were flailing attacks and demoralizing the opposition en route to mammoth first-innings totals. Despite the best efforts of Elyse Villani (75) and veteran Alex Blackwell (90), Australia fell well short of the Kaur-inspired India. They bowed out in a shock exit, reduced to a spectator for the final.

It was meant to be an aberration. A nightmare to be forgotten and banished from the mind. But Heather Knight’s 88 not out off 80 balls, albeit only half of Kaur’s rout, had a similar impact on the Southern Stars in the Ashes series.

England posted 8/284 – a total Australia valiantly failed to chase down. The result went a long way to the final drawn result in the Ashes series, as Australia looked to be losing its dominant edge without the marquee Meg Lanning.

Harmanpreet Kaur single-handedly destroyed the Southern Stars to kick them out of the 2017 one-day World Cup (Photo – Cricket Australia)

It proved to be the line in the sand moment for the Southern Stars.

They could either fall back into the pack of women’s international teams or evolve to become an even stronger unit. To bounce back, they faced their demons in the Australian summer when India traveled to test their mettle.

Usually, a strong one-day unit, the Southern Stars selection now looked weak except for one important cog – Meg Lanning was back. Her return from a long injury lay-off boosted Australia’s morale. Consistent runs from openers Nicole Bolton and Alyssa Healy signalled the Stars’ improved attacking mindset at the top of the order, while Jess Jonassen set the tone with ball in hand.

The new balance to the side gave three massive wins over India and set Australia back on the course to assuming one-day dominance.

What happened next may have left Kaur ruing her once-in-a-lifetime knock. Instead of just returning to their usual strong ways, the Southern Stars went a few steps further. They were on a mission.

A journey that led to yesterday’s record breaking 22nd straight one-day international win over poor New Zealand.

Coach Matthew Mott reinvigorated his side, encouraging more attacking stroke play from emerging youngsters. Megan Schutt and Jonassen dominated all phases of the bowling innings, and Ellyse Perry rose to become the game’s greatest all-rounder.

Those three one-day wins over India in March 2018 started the streak. Half a year later the Stars looked just as sharp when they squashed Pakistan by five wickets, 150 runs and then 89 runs to extend it to six straight wins. To make good measure out of it, they also took the three T20 matches convincingly to send Pakistan home winless.

In the latter stages of her career, Nicole Bolton helped return the Southern Stars to their winning ways (Photo – Cricket Australia)

A T20 World Cup win in 2018 did little to quieten Australia’s hunger for revenge. Their competitiveness and determination shone through in early 2019, where they won another six one-day matches against both New Zealand and England. In this case, their resilience was deeply tested – a five-run win over their neighbours and a two-wicket victory over England showed the Stars’ ability to hang tough and prevail in tight contests. It was becoming clear this unit, regardless of personnel, was made of tough stuff.

The latter three wins helped Australia clinch another Ashes series. The accolades were building, but the Southern Stars’ one-day record would not be forfeited. Three big wins over the West Indies in September 2019 showed that their ruthlessness wasn’t mellowed by time – India and England had hurt Australia too much for them to end the streak against any other nation.

Sri Lanka was the next country to feel the Southern Stars’ wrath, as the home side swept three more 50-over contests, largely through the dominance of a rampant Alyssa Healy. With a new partner in Rachael Haynes blitzing the opening overs, the keeper-batter had found a groove that saw her take the cricket world by storm. Quickly, the streak had flown up to 18 straight one-day wins.

What makes this continued period of success even more remarkable is the gap between one-day series. Another T20 World Cup win, this time on home shores, separated their next venture against New Zealand in 2019. Only four wins away from surpassing Ricky Ponting’s 2003 men’s side as the team with the most consecutive ODI victories, nothing phased Lanning and her troops when they swept New Zealand 3-0 in the series. It was now October 2020 – nearly three years had passed since Kaur and Knight had caused Australia heartache, and the fire was still burning bright.

Ellyse Perry has been a key cog of the Southern Stars winning streak (Photo – Cricket Australia)

New faces had arrived – Georgia Wareham, Sophie Molineux, and Beth Mooney replaced the likes of Kristen Beams and Alex Blackwell, but the impact hadn’t changed. Such was the depth of the Stars’ one-day line-up that many new members joined and thrived in the environment without the need for an adjustment period. They were a runaway train, throttling across the Tasman on 21 consecutive wins, standing alongside the likes of Ponting, Gilchrist, and McGrath.

Yesterday’s emphatic six-wicket win confirmed it – the Southern Stars now stand alone as world cricket’s most successful and impressive one-day unit. While they also dominate T20 cricket, their consistent ability to easily win ODI’s is astounding. Heroes in Megan Schutt, Jonassen, Healy, Lanning, and Perry are the nucleus of a side who hold such a strong will to win that dead rubbers refuse to impact their mindset.

When Perry and Ash Gardner embraced after striking the winning runs at New Zealand’s Bay Oval to secure the 22nd record-breaking win, it caused joy to only Australians. For supporters back at home, it was an emotional confirmation of the Southern Stars’ class and superior concentration over an amazing period of time. For every other women’s cricket side, it was a fearful reminder that this Australian team is incredibly tough to beat in the one-day format.

By the looks of it, the Southern Stars don’t look intent on letting the record stop any time soon either.

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