Women's T20 World Cup
Dose of normality refreshes Lanning as Australia eye World Cup title
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Waiting tables in her local cafe and hanging out with friends and family helped rekindle Meg Lanning's love of cricket and intensified her drive to steer top-ranked Australia to another Twenty20 World Cup title this month.
The decorated women's skipper took a indefinite months-long hiatus in 2022 after an intense few years, sparking fears she would not return.
Her break from endless training and travel included serving coffees and washing dishes at a Melbourne cafe, a rare overseas holiday and quality time with her dog Mabel.
The dose of normality worked wonders and she is now back, refreshed, and with unfinished business at a fifth T20 World Cup, starting this week in South Africa.
"There's a fair bit I still want to achieve, so once I came to that conclusion, I started working towards where I might come back and what that might look like," the 30-year-old, who returned last month for a 2-0 home series win against Pakistan, told reporters.
"But having the break, it was certainly something that I needed and it certainly freshened me up a lot.
"I just needed some time to be able to feel a little bit normal, to have a bit less structure around what I was doing (and) having done that now I feel really refreshed and ready to go."
Lanning's return is a massive boost for an already star-studded and all-conquering side boosting some of the biggest names in the game, including vice-captain Alyssa Healy, all-rounder Elyse Perry and fast bowler Megan Schutt.
The world's number one team kick off their tournament in Paarl on Sunday against New Zealand before pool games against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
They are heavy favourites, having won five of the seven World Cups held.
That included crushing India by 85 runs in front of more than 86,000 fans -- a women's cricket record -- at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to win the last event in 2020.
Since that spectacle they have lost the likes of now-retired stalwart Rachael Haynes, but from the endless conveyor belt of Australian talent the squad has gained the hard-hitting Grace Harris and all-rounders Kim Garth and Heather Graham.
"Our squad has gone through a period of change since the last World Cup, but I think that is a positive," said Lanning, who became Australia's youngest-ever skipper at 21 and has led the side since.
"We are constantly evolving and we have great flexibility in our team at the moment both with bat and ball.
"There is a real mix of youth with experience, and we have got players who can play a number of different roles depending on the opposition."
One aspect that could prove challenging for Australia is that few in the squad have played in South Africa, meaning the conditions will be new.
South Africa captain Sune Luus recently predicted Paarl would be "very hot" and the pitches "worn and torn", but Lanning is confident they have enough experience to quickly adapt.
"The one thing we have proven over the years is that our most valuable weapon is adaptability, both in training and on the field," she said, adding that the clear goal was to "emulate our record-breaking win in Melbourne".
They head into the tournament with a fully-fit squad after wicketkeeper-batter Healy last week declared her availability for the first game after recovering from a calf injury tweaked on their T20 tour of India in December.