November 29, 2018
Australia's women are the T20 World Cup champions. They scooped the trophy in the Caribbean and flew home in time for a public event at Melbourne Federation Square, a rare ray of light in what is otherwise known as the summer of bans for Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in the wake of the Newlands scandal.
In the afterglow of that triumph, one of the central stories told by the coach Matthew Mott is of the vice-captain, Rachael Haynes, and her determination to stay at No. 6 in the batting order despite offers to move up the order as a player in strong form. This decision to stay the course is duly rewarded with a pivotal innings in the semi-final against West Indies, 25 well-struck runs that helped ensure victory. At once, Haynes is an exemplar of the national team's high level of proficiency and the culture that underpins it.
"I know people sometimes put the boot in a little bit to team culture and those sorts of things," Haynes says with the Fed Square stage as her backdrop. "But it's become really meaningful for us, what we stand for, and the type of team we want to be, and also how we connect with the general public. On the field you see our skill, how we've developed athletically, all those sorts of things, but there's a lot more layers to it than that.
"The word that gets thrown around about our team is fearless...it means something to us and we've brought that to life. We're just honest with each other. We talk about how we're feeling, we are prepared to have conversations that at times could be uncomfortable and I think that's a sign of a pretty good environment that if someone can stand in front of the team and say 'I'm a bit nervous about this' and 'what if we don't win', I think our team's come such a long way in that respect."
That victory in the far distant Caribbean was not just a vindication of that environment and the players within it; it was the start of another road, that towards hosting the next T20 World Cup in Australia in February 2020. In terms of expectations and proximity to home, it shapes as an entirely different challenge to 2018.
January 15, 2020
A red carpet is laid out at Melbourne's Junction Oval for the announcement of Australia's T20 World Cup squad, led by the captain Meg Lanning but with her deputy Haynes not far behind. The story, though, is the selection of the teenager Annabel Sutherland for her first Australian squad as part of the fortunate 15 to take part in what will likely be the biggest tournament of all their lives.
For Haynes, who at 33 has had a career that has taken up both sides of the move from low-profile amateurism to full-time professionalism and the combination of advantages and pressures that come with it, Sutherland's selection is an indication of that environment she spoke so proudly about 15 months before.
"I think back to when I started and in a lot of respects you were left to your own devices, you might have got a program and you'd come together and train, but it just wasn't to the same level, whereas these days everything you do is pretty much monitored and measured and you're a lot more accountable for what you do," Haynes says. "It's a different beast now, but I still think within our system, given the girls have really only gone fully professional over the last couple of years, it just makes you think even the girls currently in this Australian team haven't reached their ceiling, they've still got a long way to develop, and that's really exciting."
So how has professionalism changed things for Haynes, and others who can remember having to split their time between study, work and training or playing for their state and ultimately their country? A road that many of Australia's World Cup opponents are still travelling on.
"When you play in the Australian team we want this to be a place where people thrive, so they come in, we support them as well as we can, and that's the main thing. What happens out on the field sometimes is a bit fickle and you can put a lot of work in behind the scenes and it can be really brutal at times" Rachael Haynes on Australia's team culture
"It's the ability to put in more time, which is probably the luxury they didn't have in the past," she says. "So that's the big thing that stands out, but there's also been more playing opportunities as well outside the international team. So they're playing Australia A series more consistently now, and also within the WBBL competition they're getting a bit of insight to international players from other teams as well and how they go about their skill and training and developing.
"I think perhaps we've already seen a little bit of a flow-on effect as well from the start of the WBBL and international players getting the opportunity to play in our competition and then they've taken some ideas back home and you can see that with India for example. So I think that's a really positive thing for the game more broadly, obviously we want Australian cricket to be really strong and try and stay ahead, but where we can push other countries to make sure they're providing more opportunities and more resourcing to their teams, I think it's going to be a really positive thing for the world game."
That time is reflected, too, in how carefully the Australians have been able to map out their plans, dating back to preparations for the 2018 T20 World Cup in the West Indies. A squad boasting no fewer than eight top order players, who all open for their WBBL clubs, was always going to require plenty of clear instruction as to who does what.
"I think one of the reasons we had a lot of success over that period was role clarity, people understood where they fit into the team and the puzzle of match day, which I think is really important," Haynes says. "The other big thing is confidence. We've kept together the core part of the group and being able to introduce some new players as well leading into this World Cup."
In addition to Sutherland, the Australian squad has also welcomed back the spin bowling talents of Sophie Molineux, after the 22-year-old took a break for mental health reasons earlier in the season. The fact that the selectors have felt confident to include not only a teenaged debutant in Sutherland, but a cricketer in Molineux who has had to fight her own battles behind the scenes in order to be ready to take her place in the squad, speaks once more to the environment Lanning, Haynes and Mott are trying to maintain.
"Sophie's a great person first and foremost, and particularly in our environment, we don't want this to be a place where people just come to survive and you get through and there's lots of pressure," Haynes says. "When you play in the Australian team we want this to be a place where people thrive, so they come in, we support them as well as we can, and that's the main thing. What happens out on the field sometimes is a bit fickle and you can put a lot of work in behind the scenes and it can be really brutal at times.
"I think it's a really positive thing that a young player like Sophie felt like she could come to our team and our leaders and say 'look, something's not right, I need to take a break'. That's something to be really proud of within our team."
When she speaks these words, Haynes herself is grateful for the support she is describing. The vice-captain's World Cup selection may not have been in much doubt, but she is entering the warm-up period with precious little in the way of form behind her: 166 runs at 15.09 and a strike rate of 85.56 in the WBBL campaign . For Australia to succeed in the Cup, Haynes must find a way through this trough.
February 12, 2020
Australia's typical summer of international cricket is coming to a close, and in Melbourne the Belinda Clark and Allan Border medals were awarded to Ellyse Perry and David Warner for their efforts over the preceding 12 months. But amid the celebrating and at times commiserating, Haynes and her team-mates know their work is just beginning.
Two days later they are playing against India in the final of the T20I tri-series that serves as the warm-up event for England also, and for most of the afternoon it appears likely that the visitors will scoop their second win in a row against Lanning's team. There is plenty of pressure mounting on the hosts, amid the heavy promotion of the tournament and its final, with the quest to fill the MCG with a world record women's sporting crowd on March 8, International Women's Day.
There are two important turning points to be had, however. The first is for Haynes herself, clouting a vital finisher's 18 runs at the end of the innings to push the Australians beyond 150, and in the process adding to the momentum she is now building after such a dire WBBL campaign.
"I felt like I turned a bit of a corner in Canberra, and sometimes when that stuff happens you don't necessarily see the impact on the scoreboard…and then had a good innings against England, and then to come out and back that up I think is really positive signs for me," she says.
Haynes is a spectator for the second moment, as Nicola Carey turns around a difficult day into the sort of territory Australia want to be reaching so close to a major tournament. Having already been forced to play two games in a day (the curtain-raiser between a CA XI and England, then the final itself) Carey finds the ball following her in the field.
The very delivery after she misfields to allow a boundary that takes India's requirement down to 41 runs from 35 balls with seven wickets in hand, Carey is compelled to refocus and move forward for a low catch from the flashing blade of Smriti Mandhana. The chance is difficult, but she makes good ground and it sticks, setting the scene for Jess Jonassen to spin a web around the India middle order that results in an 11-run victory.
"It just takes one moment where you can't be dwelling on what's happened, you have to move forward and focus on what's next," Haynes says. "I think our team's done that well at stages throughout this series, but Nic's effort was a good example of that, that things might not always be perfect for you, but you've got to make sure you're looking forward and ready for the next contest.
"There's been some really pleasing signs, although Midge [Alyssa Healy] has probably missed out more than she would've liked at the top, we've seen Ash [Gardner] step up as well and take that on, Meg's been outstanding. So the great thing for our group is we're not just relying on any one player, we're coming together as a team."
This is not to say that events at Junction Oval are not without alarms for Australia. Every day India are in the country they have appeared to improve, typifying the stiffening resistance to Australia from the rest of the world, and setting things up for the World Cup opener on Friday night in Sydney.
"I think what you can see from their batting line-up in particular is their top four is extremely strong and can really take the game away from any opposition really quickly," Haynes says. "So from our point of view, the flip side of that is you know when you're out in the field, you've got to try and stay in the contest, because if you pick up wickets you can almost turn the momentum."
But there is a sense of relief almost in Haynes' voice that the long lead-in is just about over, and that the Cup itself is about to begin. For athletes coached time and again to not look too far ahead, forget about the end result and trust the process that has been trained into them, the start of the tournament is a moment to savour.
"It's been a little bit odd to be honest this series, not because it's not good practice or anything like that, but just because in the back of your mind as a player you know what's to come," Haynes says. "We've pushed and practised things we want to be able to nail when we're under pressure for the World Cup. So I don't think we've necessarily been at our best but there's been times when we've found a way to win, and that's really important, particularly in tournament cricket."