Australian women's World Cup cricketer and opener Meg Lanning.

Class act: Meg Lanning is looking forward to the World Cup. Photo: Mal Fairclough

THERE is an understandable fascination with England's Sarah Taylor ahead of the women's World Cup because she is widely regarded as the best female cricketer in the world, and may play with and against men for Sussex's second XI this year.

Australia's Meg Lanning is perhaps the only other woman in her sport with the technique and aggressive outlook to do something similar. Having developed her striking off-side game facing teenage boys in the Associated Public Schools competition, the 20-year-old opening bat can understand Taylor's desire to challenge herself, to cope with the extra pace and test her strength of mind against men. Trouble is, Lanning has a philosophical problem with the constant comparisons between cricket as most people see it, a power game played by men, and the way it is played by the elite women and girls.

''The sooner women's cricket stops getting compared directly with the men's game, the better, because it's different. The fundamentals are the same and we get to similar scores, but we do it differently,'' said Lanning, who has turned down a couple of invitations to play for the Box Hill men's first XI because she wasn't available.

''It would create an extra challenge, to see what you could do against a different skill-set. It's not something I would probably look at doing.''

Lanning is a captivating cricketer, the sort women's cricket needs if it is to be appreciated for its own sake. In December, she scored an exhilarating century from 45 balls against New Zealand at North Sydney Oval, the fastest by an Australian, male or female, in domestic one-day cricket.

For coach Cathryn Fitzpatrick, that innings placed Lanning in the league of Belinda Clark and Karen Rolton, both former captains and greats. ''Belinda, through her play, brought attention to the game, she changed how the game was played by women,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''She was a good worker of the ball, had quick feet, was a great player of spin. 'Rolly' was more of a bully of the ball, then you look at Meg and she is different again.''

She thinks Lanning and Taylor, a 23-year-old wicketkeeper and top-order bat for England, are in a class of their own.

''A lot of women when they look for power in their shots have a tendency to hit across the line but these two have a straight bat, they've got good bat-speed and they play more like boys, to be honest, in a positive way … Sarah Taylor has been a good performer over a longer period of time than Meg, but it's hard to say one is better than the other.''

Lanning idolised Ricky Ponting but was inspired by Rolton to hit over the top, through the off side. Incidentally, Rolton played men's grade cricket in Adelaide because the women's club competition there lacked depth. ''She was the one person who I saw hit a six over cover, I thought that was an amazing shot and I loved the way she wanted to attack. So I try to be attacking all the time,'' Lanning said.

Her immediate focus is the 50-over World Cup in India, starting Thursday.

Australia has a proud history at the event, having won the title five times, but the Southern Stars are wary, as ever, of England. The defending champion is desperate to avenge its recent loss to Australia at the World Twenty20.

Lanning's remarkable form has carried into the new year; she boarded the plane to Mumbai on Friday after being named player of the series for scores of 76 and 64 in Twenty20 games against New Zealand this week.

The shortest format has taken over women's cricket because of its possibilities for television, but Lanning said the World Cup retains its prestige.

It also presents a rare chance to build an innings. ''Fifty overs is so long now, if you get out at the 20-over mark you sit there for 30 overs thinking, 'grrr …','' she said. ''It's amazing what a bit of confidence can do. You make one score and it's amazing how it carries on. I'm looking forward to getting over to India and keeping that form going because that's where it really counts. Big games are where you want to make your runs. Hopefully, the World Cup is like that for me.''