In Good Hands

Alyssa Healy and Aussie women’s cricket is on the rise – nice to have an Ashes win to go with it.

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - BY LISA STHALEKAR

With an­other sum­mer of cricket start­ing to heat up, we be­gin to sali­vate like Pavlov’s dogs about the con­test that will un­fold in the Ashes ... Or shall we say the men’s Ashes. Cricket lovers no longer have to wait un­til the first ses­sion at the Gabba in late Novem­ber; if you’re crav­ing Aus­trali­aver­sus-Eng­land ac­tion be­tween wick­ets, the women’s Ashes be­gins this month!

Aus­tralian cap­tain – and no.1 bat­ter in the world – Meg Lan­ning is out of this series due to shoul­der surgery. Rachael Haynes was an­nounced as her re­place­ment and will lead the side in its at­tempt to re­tain the Ashes. Haynes will be able to rely on play­ers such as vice-cap­tain Alex Black­well, all-rounder Ell­yse Perry, open­ing bat Ni­cole Bolton, swing bowler Me­gan Schutt and pow­er­ful mid­dle-order hit­ter El­yse Vil­lani, to name just a few.

How­ever, there is one player who I be­lieve will play an even big­ger role in this series. Her name is Alyssa Healy.

As the pro­file of women’s cricket rises gen­er­ally, Healy is al­ready one of the more recog­nis­able fe­male play­ers. She shares a sur­name and a po­si­tion with one of the na­tion’s greats be­hind the stumps, her un­cle Ian Healy; oh, and there’s the fact she’s mar­ried to Australia’s lead­ing fast bowler, Mitchell Starc. The pub­lic has no prob­lems iden­ti­fy­ing her as the Aus­tralian wick­et­keeper.

My own as­so­ci­a­tion with Alyssa Healy be­gan more than 15 years ago, when I was serv­ing as a high-per­for­mance coach for Cricket NSW. She was 12 at the time and ac­tu­ally sport­ing a sim­i­lar hair­cut to what she cur­rently has. Healy was cheeky, in a good way, and al­ways up to prac­ti­cal jokes with her part­ner-in-crime, Ell­yse Perry. You cer­tainly had to keep your eye on those two as they plot­ted and planned. How­ever, even at that young age, it was ev­i­dent that Healy was ex­tremely tal­ented. From that point along her crick­et­ing path, she never re­ally played against her own age group.

For­mer NSW and Aus­tralian Test keeper Phil Emery re­called his first en­counter with Healy. He had been asked to as­sess a group of teenage wick­et­keep­ers from the lo­cal cricket as­so­ci­a­tion. Healy was one of those play­ers, though she was only aged ten.

Af­ter spend­ing time with each player, Emery said he thought there were some who could po­ten­tially keep, and a cou­ple of oth­ers who shouldn’t have been be­hind the stumps. But in Healy’s case: “That girl, she can bloody keep and will play for Australia.”

Some­one asked Emery if he knew who she was. He thought about it, and based on how she moved and her abil­ity, he joked: “Surely she isn’t a Healy?”

As a team-mate or as an op­po­nent, you cer­tainly know that Healy falls de­light­fully into the cat­e­gory of a “chirpy” wick­et­keeper, which may or may not be a pos­i­tive, depend­ing on which side you are on. Apart from be­ing an ex­cep­tional tech­ni­cian be­hind the stumps, she is fiercely com­pet­i­tive once she crosses the bound­ary rope, is in­cred­i­bly loyal, is an ex­cel­lent strate­gist and one of the clean­est strik­ers of the ball in the women’s game. Just ask a num­ber of bowlers who have served up their stock-de­liv­ery first ball, only to see Healy launch it over their head for six.

What might not be com­monly known is that Healy re­ceived her baggy green be­fore her hus­band did (de­spite hav­ing only played two Test matches, com­pared to his 36), which must be nice to re­mind Mitch about ev­ery now and again at home. Healy also has a deep re­spect for the his­tory of the sport and the play­ers who came be­fore her, and de­spite hav­ing a seem­ingly re­laxed at­ti­tude to cricket, she is a real thinker of the game.

At the age of 27, Healy is a se­nior player in Aus­tralian cricket, hav­ing de­buted for NSW ten years ago and in­ter­na­tion­ally seven years ago. She has wit­nessed the change in the game from an am­a­teur sport, to semi-pro­fes­sional and now fully pro­fes­sional for some of the top play­ers in terms of re­mu­ner­a­tion and high­per­for­mance sup­port.

When Cricket NSW an­nounced in Oc­to­ber last year that its women’s side, the Break­ers, would be­come the first fully pro­fes­sional fe­male cricket team – with its play­ers po­ten­tially able to earn salaries of more than $100,000 a year – Healy was quick to thank both or­gan­i­sa­tions and the past play­ers. “Also a men­tion to those who have gone be­fore us and worked bloody hard to be able to play cricket,” she tweeted out. “This is a tribute to you guys!”

A more re­cent ex­am­ple of Healy’s re­spect for past pi­o­neers was on show be­fore the Aus­tralian women’s team de­parted for its World Cup cam­paign in Eng­land this past June-July. Cricket Australia had in­vited the past

World Cup teams, who were hon­oured and also re­ceived a unique chance to in­ter­act with the cur­rent Aus­tralian side.

Healy was one of the last of the play­ers to leave that night. She lis­tened gen­uinely and re­spect­fully to the past play­ers’ sto­ries – it was won­der­ful to sit back and ob­serve this dy­namic. At the time, I men­tioned to her that all of the past play­ers would be re­ally thank­ful that she stayed and in­ter­acted with them. She was quick to cor­rect me: it was an honour for her to be able to meet the pi­o­neers and leg­ends of the game.

Along­side her re­spect for the game, Healy is an ex­tremely loyal per­son. If any­one chal­lenges a friend, team-mate or her sport, she is very quick to stand up for them. A re­cent na­tional news­pa­per story of­fered the com­ment on women’s cricket: “If only the women could bowl faster, the bat­tle be­tween bat and bowl would be more even. The lack of pace al­lows women to cor­rect ini­tially poor judge­ment and cause no fear or con­cern in the mind.”

Healy was mo­ti­vated to write a re­ply on the cricket.com.au website. She said she was tired that she and many other fe­male ath­letes had to jus­tify their sport: “As women’s sport gains more trac­tion on the telly, we tend to cop a lit­tle bit more crit­i­cism about not be­ing able to do things as well as the men, or so it seems to some peo­ple … Top-level sport is about be­ing the best you can be in elite com­pany.”

Healy’s love of the game, and the re­spect she shows for it, demon­strates that she sees the big­ger pic­ture. She un­der­stands the role that she has to play and what a priv­i­lege it is to play cricket at the elite level. That is why when she takes to the field come the Ashes, she will come out all guns blaz­ing be­cause she will truly un­der­stand the sense of oc­ca­sion.

T

he stats-lovers will knock Healy’s record with the bat. They need to dig a lit­tle deeper than the num­bers, though, for some con­text. While Healy’s road to the top might have been viewed as swift, there has been frus­tra­tion about Healy not hav­ing be­ing given a good run at so­lid­i­fy­ing her spot in the XI. This is mainly be­cause of team bal­ance is­sues and be­ing fre­quently moved around the order.

In 2010, Healy re­placed the in­jured cap­tain, Jodie Fields, be­hind the stumps. It meant that she got to taste the suc­cess of a World T20 win in West Indies, re­gain­ing the Ashes and con­tin­u­ing the strong hold against New Zealand in the Rose Bowl series.

When Fields was fit and ready to go in 2012, Healy ini­tially re­tained her po­si­tion in the side as a bat­ter, but found it dif­fi­cult to se­cure her spot at

the top of the order. Un­for­tu­nately, she couldn’t break into the line-up for the 2013 edi­tion of the World Cup.

In the short­est for­mat of the game, Healy was given a good run at open­ing. When she scored an im­pres­sive 90 runs off 61 de­liv­er­ies against In­dia in 2012, ev­ery­one thought that she was away. How­ever, she then had a few chal­leng­ing in­nings and couldn’t gen­er­ate the nec­es­sary mo­men­tum to get go­ing again. It re­sulted in Healy be­ing dropped down the order.

Af­ter Fields re­tired from in­ter­na­tional cricket in 2014, Healy again found her way into the one-day side, but this time bat­ted pre­dom­i­nantly at six or seven, with the oc­ca­sional op­por­tu­nity of open­ing. How­ever, mov­ing her around again seemed to be an ef­fort to ad­dress other team bal­ance is­sues, and made it hard for Healy to bed down a top-order spot.

The rel­e­vant num­bers for Healy with the bat are more likely found in her re­cent do­mes­tic sea­sons, as well her per­for­mance in the re­cent World Cup. When given an op­por­tu­nity, the statis­tics tell us what we in­tu­itively know – her bat­ting is very im­pres­sive.

In the do­mes­tic one-day com­pe­ti­tion, the Women’s Na­tional Cricket League, she scored 249 runs, av­er­ag­ing 62.25. In the women’s Big Bash for the Syd­ney Six­ers, she scored 479 runs with an im­pres­sive strike-rate of 123. Fi­nally, in the World Cup, her strike rate of 148 and her average of 38 showed she is in red-hot form.

Healy’s all-round game, with bat and gloves, means she is a real weapon that will play an im­por­tant role in the women’s Ashes. Com­bine that with the fact that she has been given the op­por­tu­nity to lead her team reg­u­larly as cap­tain of the Syd­ney Six­ers, and guided them through the WBBL fi­nals this year to se­cure a ti­tle: she un­der­stands what it takes to win.

Hav­ing had the op­por­tu­nity to play un­der Healy’s cap­taincy at the Six­ers dur­ing WBBL 02, what struck me im­me­di­ately was a sense of calm out there in the mid­dle. I liken an ef­fec­tive leader as be­ing a chess- playing duck. What is a chess-playing duck, you ask? Pic­ture a duck peace­fully glid­ing over a pond, calm up top, but their legs mov­ing at a crazy pace un­der­neath the sur­face, al­ways as­sess­ing the moment and think­ing two steps ahead. And that is ex­actly what Healy did.

An­other trait that I ob­served was her abil­ity to make ev­ery­one in the team be­lieve that they were good enough to ex­e­cute the skill that she was ask­ing of them out in the mid­dle. That be­lief in her team-mates is some­times ex­tremely hard to come across or­gan­i­cally, though it was some­thing that she was able to achieve.

Hav­ing been brought up in a cricket-lov­ing fam­ily, she has been ex­posed at a young age to some of our finest crick­eters in the coun­try, which is why her crick­et­ing knowl­edge is first-rate. And while at home the Stealys’ (Starc and Healy) cricket talk

doesn’t dom­i­nate ev­ery moment, there is no doubt al­ways an el­e­ment of it just around the cor­ner. Given the fact that Rachel Haynes will be lead­ing the side for the first time in a series, Healy’s po­si­tion be­hind the stumps will be cru­cial. Not only will she work to get the an­gles right in the field, but she will also be the driver of en­ergy out there. Healy is go­ing to be a cru­cial cog in Haynes’ plan for the Aus­tralian team to come out suc­cess­fully. If given the op­por­tu­nity to bat in the top order through­out the series, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that these women’s Ashes will be the series that de­fines Healy’s ca­reer. She could take her game to an­other level that we all know is there, just as women’s cricket it­self goes to an­other level for the fans.

“Healy­was tired that she­and many other fe­maleath­letes had to­jus­tify their sport … ‘Top-level sport is­about be­ing the bestyou can be in elite com­pany’.”

A ran­dom fan sits at a women's cricket match, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to the keeper ... Light­ning-fast gloves at the 2017 World Cup.

Healy with last sum­mer's WBBL spoils. With part­ner in crime Ell­yse Perry back in 2011.

The moral of Healy's re­cent bat­ting stats: she's in red-hot form. Lessons from the au­thor of this piece.

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