WOMEN’S WORLD T20, 2018
Schutt is in her sixth year as an Australian player. © Getty
“I once told a woman I was Kevin Costner,” bragged disreputable lawyer Saul Goodman in one of his early appearances on Breaking Bad, “and it worked because I believed it!” It was a point well made about the ubiquitous effect of self-belief.
In Australia, there is a familiar truism from sixth grade park cricket to a packed professional stadium. It runs that hostile cricket equals successful cricket. To what extent that two and two makes four matters little due to how this message passed down, socialised, and crucially, believed. The consensus runs strongly.
What happens, then, when a lore like this is challenged? Well, the Australian women’s team are striving to find out. They’ve been busy writing a new equation.
Speaking to Cricbuzz in the days before the start of the World T20 campaign, attack-leader Megan Schutt explained how a shift in disposition has infected a game plan that liberates the players to compete with a smile by default rather than a scowl.
A turning point was when they were punted from last year’s ODI World Cup at the semi-final stage by a plucky Indian outfit, which “left a lot of things brewing in a few minds” she says. “In a way, it was probably the best thing to happen,” she continued. Why? Because it challenged them to question their foundations.
Coming the year after they were shocked by the West Indies in the decider for the World T20 crown in India, the top-ranked side in the world suddenly had no trophies to show for that tag for the first time since 2010. A “confronting” discussion after the loss to India got the ball rolling, which preceded a comfortable Women’s Ashes defence with two rubbers so spare.
“We are playing differently,” Schutt continued. “We have a completely different team and a different formula.” The personality of the team has been noticed by opposing camps for how much more approachable they are. It is the same in this conversation: our subject is open and expressive in a way that also hasn’t been practice from an Australian camp that for too long traded in cautious and conservative corporate speak.
“When I first joined the Aussie squad we had a different environment in terms of not being able to express ourselves as much and trying to fit the mould,” Schutt explains. “But now, with social media and the new exposure that we have for women’s cricket, we are able to be ourselves and who we are, which in turn is going to make us happier and play better cricket.”
There we no formal rules, Schutt explains, it was “just the culture” of the team for them to keep the bat and pad squeezed tightly together. “It was a really serious environment. But we are people, that needs to be remembered. We are cricketers but people, and that isn’t always shown at that high level but it really is now and it’s important to show how fun it is.”
The 25-year-old, who took over the captaincy of the South Australian state team during the southern winter, credits coach Matthew Mott with fostering this more relaxed dressing room. “He’s a cheeky shit and that works really well for me,” Schutt laughs. “He was a breath for fresh air. I realised I could be my idiot self and have a laugh with him and that’s the environment he created so that we could shine both as cricketers and people. So the team culture and gel and feel has never been better than it is now.”
Going back twelve months, Schutt personally demonstrated her willingness to talk freely and forcefully during Australia’s torrid marriage equality debate that at last legalised same-sex couples to wed. Sure enough, given her own relationship, she copped a battering online from bigots who didn’t approve.
“It was something that I really wanted to do,” she reflects with pride. “It was a pretty tough time for me as it was a lot of people in the same boat fighting for it, there was a lot of hate on social media and I read a lot of really horrible things. So, I think I had to use my voice a little bit for that people feeling the same way.”
Instead of giving into the trolls and “keyboard warriors” Schutt kept her cool. “I am usually the type of person to bite back to that and easy to wind up but I did my best to block them. I think my block and mute list would have quadrupled during that time. It wasn’t the best of times but I am just glad that debate is over – for now.”
That relationship with her fiance, Jess, is one that Schutt discusses tenderly. An employee of Cricket Australia, but not a “completely snuff” for the finer points of the game, she is seen as vital to swing ace’s rise to the very top of the world’s bowler rankings.
“I have never been in such a happy mental place,” Schutt says of the partnership. “Jess keeps me grounded. She puts me in my place when I need to be told, and often I do. Just being happy in general helps you play good cricket and I haven’t been happy and had that balance as much as I have now. She is crucial to keeping me happy, which keeps me playing good cricket.”
With life clicking so neatly for Schutt, she is relishing the chance to be a senior player and leader, now into her sixth year as an Australian representative with 90 caps under her belt.
“When people said that to me a few years ago that mid-20s is your prime I didn’t really believe them because I already thought I was an alright player but now that I can see the way I have developed,” she says. “I love being able to mentor the young players. I see a lot of myself in them. They are a bit less of an idiot than I was at their age, but it is honestly kind of humbling to be in this position, to be 25 and already played that many games.”
Better still, the years that will likely represent the peak of Schutt’s powers will be televised, with every Australian home match for the next six years guaranteed to be broadcast free-to-air as part of a new agreement. In a significant show of faith, that included screening the side’s opening T20 of the summer against New Zealand directly after the Australian Rules Grand Final – the biggest TV sporting event of the year.
“They pumped so much time and energy into it and it was bloody awesome,” Schutt gushes. “We never had that kind of backing. It was a bit of a rumour when I first heard about it and I didn’t really believe it. It was really humbling too that they would put us in such a crucial time slot.”
Schutt’s mission clear: to make an impact in any way she can while she has the privilege of representing her country. “You never know how many years are left,” she notes, “that’s the way that international cricket goes, so it is about making the mark while I have the time to do that.” You better believe it.