Rock bottom. It is a term that has dominated Australian cricket for the past nine months. On the field, then off, then on again. What constitutes the nadir? When is the darkest hour?
Of course, this has precious little to do with the women’s national team, who are currently in the Caribbean trying to reclaim the World T20 title that they lost in India in 2016.
But Matthew Mott identifies his side as having reached its lowest when it was turfed out of the one-day World Cup by India in 2017, a year after giving up the T20 crown.
Speaking with The New Daily after registering a first-up win against Pakistan in the World T20 under way this past weekend, the Australian coach detailed how that shock semi-final loss last July prompted a period of introspection that has fundamentally altered the team’s psyche.
“There was a lot of soul-searching,” he said of the vital post-mortem meeting held two months later.
“We played the footage with no music, and no fluff, then sat the players down and got them to just get their emotions off their chest. A number of them were very emotional and bared their soul, showing a lot of vulnerability.”
Mott revealed there was a quick identification by the team of a problem in the dressing room after winning three World T20s and a World Cup this decade: They had slipped into a mindset of protecting their hegemony at a time when more teams than ever were posing a threat.
“It is probably not until you reach rock bottom as a team mentally that you can act and I think that was the point of no return,” Mott said.
“We had been operating in this bubble for a while. So, we could either have kept going the way that we were and be gettable by everyone or we could throw caution to the wind a little bit more and have fun.”
Citing, in particular, an increasingly sketchy record in T20 fixtures, Mott knew Australia’s place in the pecking order was under threat.
“The team was winning for a long time playing at 90 per cent,” he said.
“Then there was this realisation when a couple of teams took games away from us – as we saw in the World T20 Final and the World Cup semi – that we were gettable. We were playing conservatively and hoping that our skills would overcome the opposition.”
Specifically, he saw opponents who previously would seldom lay a glove on the Australians were playing the way they once did: boldly and without fear.
“There was a realisation that if they can do that, then why are we going out there and playing conservatively and managing situations when we have got so much talent at our disposal?”
The responsibility for getting the artists formerly known as the Southern Stars back on track was taken by captain Meg Lanning and her deputy Rachael Haynes.
“The two of them should take a lot of credit for masterminding the step forward,” Mott said.
“The players took ownership. There is a real hunting mentality now that if we are going to go out and be the best version of ourselves we have to go and get it rather than hoping we can get through.”
The new set of relentlessly positive values that Lanning’s side abides by is allied with an attitude shift to match.
Mott is thrilled by the joyful approach that now sits at the forefront of everything the group takes on.
“They are enjoying what they are doing and that has been the biggest change,” he said.
“That’s why it is such a great, fun group to be around because everyone expects the person beside them to be playing hard but with a smile.”
The man in charge knows that by taking the game on at every available opportunity it means there will be occasional slip-ups, much as there has been for England’s world-leading men in 50-over cricket since going through a similar transformation after its World Cup exit in 2015.
“There is no doubt about that,” he said.
“That is the nature of T20. But we are in a better position to win more games by playing with that freedom and a smile on our face.”
Mott insisted the “take no prisoners” hardness won’t vanish – they are an Australian national team, after all. But through a more mindful and positive approach, they arrive there from a far healthier starting point. There’s something to be said for rock bottom after all.
Australia’s World T20 campaign resumes on Monday against Ireland (7am AEST), telecast live on Nine GEM and Fox Cricket.