‘Live by the sword and die by it’: How Australia turned their World Cup around

As the wickets tumbled against Sri Lanka in Perth last month, a "horrendous" thought crossed Matthew Mott's mind.

Four days into a home World Cup in which Australia were the raging favourites, his team were staring elimination in the face.

Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry helped Australia narrowly avoid T20 World Cup elimination in Perth against Sri Lanka.Credit:Getty

Thanks to leaders Lanning and Rachael Haynes, the defending champions found a way out of the hole and tournament organisers and Cricket Australia breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"To get through the game – from thereon in it was almost like we were playing with the banker's money because there was the realisation it could have been the end," Mott says.

That group stage match against Sri Lanka has proven to be a turning point for Australia, who despite numerous setbacks and hurdles – some of their own making – honoured their part of the deal in setting up a dream final on Sunday against India.

Australia have done it the hard way. They lost speed demon Tayla Vlaeminck on the eve of the tournament, and their superstar Ellyse Perry before the semis. They have not been done any favours by tournament organisers, forced to travel further than any side.

Their first slice of good fortune, and a considerable chunk as well, came on Thursday night when the rain in Sydney stopped just in time for them to play 33 overs.

A fortnight ago, the narrow escape out in the west prompted a soul searching team meeting in which senior players laid bare their vulnerabilities and recommitted to "live by the sword and die by it".

Their earlier loss to India was the result of a "couple of overs of madness", Mott reasoned, so therefore not a huge concern. Not so the performance against Sri Lanka.

From the Sri Lanka game onwards that was the most significant change for mine. It wasn't like playing and hoping to win, it was we're going to come out here, take the game on and if it doesn't come off we can live with that.

Under Mott, the Australians have prided themselves on playing "fearless" cricket. It was one of their resolutions after their semi-final defeat in the 2017 World Cup. What disturbed Mott the most about the top-order collapse was their "timid" play, the lack of "intent".

Their batters like to hit the ball hard and straight. It shows confidence and dictates proceedings to the fielders, who naturally sit back to protect the boundary. This then creates singles.

"When you're not quite there you look to run the ball a bit more and take a bit of that intent out," Mott says.

There was a realisation their style of play would not get them far.

"We had some really good constructive particularly batting meeting groups where we worked back through our values and said "are we being true to them?" he says.

"The honesty around the fact people said they were nervous and weren't playing the way they'd said they would play was the biggest thing.

"There was no one hiding their head in the sand going "oh, no, we were just unlucky". It was 'no, no, we haven't been playing as we said we would. We've got an opportunity to turn it around'".

Sri Lanka star Chamari Atapattu, who struck a 38-ball fifty in that match, was the "beacon", Mott said, but it took an unlikely type to see it – the wife of the Australian team's analyst, Sunny Kaliyar. She is not a big cricket fan, Mott said, but she made a key point.

"[She] said it looked like [Atapattu] owned the ground when she was batting against us," Mott recalls. "That was a real interesting observation to pass on to the players. That's normally what our players look like."

What made Atapattu an even better example for his team was her status as Sri Lanka's most important player. Despite Sri Lanka's reliance on her, she was still prepared to be bold.

"She was for all intents and purposes pretty much a lone hand at times and had the weight of her nation on her as the one key figurehead and she still took the game on," Mott says.

"That was almost like a green light for everyone to go back to that style of play as a batting group.

"To me it is the most obvious turnaround – our body language out in the middle. You can see it in people's eyes, can't you? Are they relaxed? Are the enjoying it? Are they looking forward to it?

"From the Sri Lanka game onwards that was the most significant change for mine. It wasn't like playing and hoping to win, it was we're going to come out here, take the game on and if it doesn't come off we can live with that."

Captain Meg Lanning noted a sense of calmness in her players afterwards.

"We have a lot of meetings about strategy and tactics," Mott says. "That was a different style of meeting. It wasn't about dissecting the game but committing back to the group. This will be our plan here. We'll live by the sword and die by it.

"We're not going to just go out there and continue to play without that fearlessness. It was definitely a big moment."

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