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