The international retirement of Meg Lanning was always going to leave a void in Australian women's cricket. Two historic losses to South Africa in as many weeks suggests the aura of invincibility is fading for the all-conquering Aussie side. Wednesday night's loss in the second ODI against South Africa marked the first time the Aussie women have ever been beaten by the Proteas in the 50-over format.
That defeat came hot on the heels of a six-wicket loss in last week's T20 match in Canberra that saw South Africa clinch a stunning 27-year first by recording their first victory over Australia in 24 attempts. To repeat their stunning success against Australia twice in two weeks suggests the balance of power is shifting in the women's game.
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Australia's dominance coincided with Lanning's long reign as captain, with the 31-year-old leading her nation to five World Cup titles (in both T20 and ODI cricket), before announcing her international retirement last year. Lanning was a three-time winner of the Belinda Clark Award and amassed 8352 runs at international level in 241 matches - more than any other Aussie female player.
Lanning's extraordinary career included a staggering 15 centuries at ODI level - more than any other player in the history of women's cricket. She became the youngest Australian woman to make an ODI century at age 18, and was elevated to the captaincy when she was just 21. Lanning's influence on the Aussie playing group has been integral to the team's unprecedented period of success.
It perhaps comes as no surprise then that Lanning's absence has provided added confidence to Australia's rivals. Under the leadership of Lanning the Aussies won 81.5 per cent of their matches, including a record 26 consecutive ODIs between March 2018 and September 2021. Under new captain Alyssa Healy that win percentage has dropped to 64 per cent. Since going on a 26-game ODI winning streak between March 2018 and September 2021, Australia have lost ODI matches against India, England twice, and now South Africa.
Rival nations 'catching up' to all-conquering Aussies
Rival sides don't seem to fear the Aussies like they once did and South Africa's Marizanne Kapp admitted after Wednesday night's historic 84-run win in the second ODI that other countries are "catching up" to the women's cricketing powerhouse. “There’s definitely a change,” Kapp said. “Losing someone like Lanning, you’re never going to be able to replace her, not with captaincy and I don’t think her batting as well.
“I remember too many games where we had Australia in trouble and she came out to bat and she saved them. I think everyone is catching up a bit around the world, even the associate teams are picking up against the lower-ranked teams, so it’s good for the women’s game. “It’s a lot more challenging, and hopefully this can continue.”
Wednesday night's win for the Proteas came after the Aussies survived being bundled out for a record low in a home ODI match. The Aussies staged a remarkable fightback after collapsing to be 8-71 at one stage, with all-rounders Ash Gardner and Kim Garth putting on a remarkable 77-run partnership to give the home side hope.
That late salvo was ultimately not enough as the Aussies were bowled out for 149 to go down in a rain-affected contest by 84-runs (DLS method). Kapp was the star of the show for South Africa, taking figures of figures of 3-12 to go with her 75 runs that saw the visitors set Australia a 234-run target.
The Aussies will be hopeful Ellyse Perry and Gardner will be fit for the third match of the ODI series at North Sydney Oval on Saturday. Perry battled a stomach bug and was only able to contribute two runs in Australia's batting collapse, while Gardner left the field with tightness in her right hamstring and did not return until her late cameo with the bat.
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