GATH­ER­ING STORM

Am­bi­tions for women’s IPL rest on the friendly rivalry of two ‘sis­ters’, writes Ben Horne

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT -

Alyssa Healy will en­ter un­charted ter­ri­tory when she touches down in In­dia to­day. She has been at the fore­front of the women’s cricket rev­o­lu­tion for the best part of a decade but Aus­tralia’s big­gest per­son­al­ity player doesn’t know what to ex­pect.

The po­ten­tial re­wards are end­less; the ex­cite­ment pal­pa­ble. Why? Be­cause Healy is about to take the gloves off against Ell­yse Perry.

Aus­tralian cricket’s only life­long team­mates, de­scribed as “sis­ters” by oth­ers in the in­ner sanc­tum, have to­gether taken the South­ern Stars to No.1 in the world.

But this Tues­day night in Mum­bai, it will be as op­po­nents that Healy and Perry will have a golden chance to change the face of the women’s game for­ever.

They will face off in the T20 chal­lenge — a sold-out ex­hi­bi­tion match to be staged be­fore the men’s IPL semi-fi­nal and broad­cast glob­ally (live on Fox Sports in prime time), dubbed as the road-test for a profile- boost­ing, cash-in­ject­ing women’s In­dian Premier League.

Healy will head­line for the IPL Trail­blaz­ers and Perry for the IPL Su­per­novas and their per­sonal rivalry, more than 20 years in the mak­ing, could hold the key to women’s cricket tak­ing a pro­found step.

“One year (in pri­mary school) she cap­tained Syd­ney North and I cap­tained Com­bined In­de­pen­dent Schools and we went out to do the toss and both sledged one an­other,” Healy said. “The um­pire didn’t know what to do. He ob- vi­ously didn’t know we knew one an­other and we were get­ting stuck into one an­other so much that the um­pire told us to calm down.

“We had a gig­gle and let him know we were friends — and then it was on for all money af­ter that.” Welcome to the jun­gle. Healy still has Perry saved as “Dags” in her phone be­cause when she first met her in pri­mary school, the dual-in­ter­na­tional was so tiny her clothes were six sizes too big.

The two grew up down the road from each other in Beecroft in Syd­ney’s north west. The only other time Healy played against Perry prompted an out­cry and a sched­ul­ing change from Cricket Aus­tralia.

As in men’s cricket in the 1990s, when the Aus­tralia A v Aus­tralia one-day con­cept died out shortly af­ter the A team won, there were no more Shoot­ing Stars v South­ern Stars matches af­ter Healy’s up-and-com­ers beat Perry’s fully fledged Aus­tralian team.

The de­scrip­tion of Healy and Perry, both 27, as “sis­ters” doesn’t sim­ply re­fer to the tight­ness of their bond but also to the com­pet­i­tive ten­sions that break out at every train­ing ses­sion. Camp in­sid­ers say you could throw a cou­ple of mar­bles out on the ground and Healy and Perry would fight tooth and nail over them.

Perry has un­yield­ing fo­cus and Healy a wick­et­keeper’s guile and class-clown hu­mour. By pit­ting them against each other in the IPL road test, or­gan­is­ers have cre­ated the po­ten­tial to in­spire the In­dian pub­lic to em­brace women’s cricket.

Three other Aus­tralians are in the mix too. Beth Mooney will line up with Healy for the Trail­blaz­ers and na­tional cap­tain Meg Lan­ning and fiery fast bowler Me­gan Schutt will join Perry at the Su­per­novas.

“We’ll see how the fans re­act on Tues­day,” says Healy, who blasted her maiden in­ter­na­tional cen­tury there just over a month ago. “This will po­ten­tially change the game. You want the sport to be big in In­dia and we’ve seen the power of the In­dian men’s team and what they can give to other na­tions around the world when they tour.

“They’ve put two pretty strong teams to­gether.”

Healy has part­nered hus­band Mitchell Starc to the men’s IPL and ex­pe­ri­enced the in­tox­i­cat­ing at­mos­phere and seven-fig­ure salaries.

In­dia have been slow to back the women’s game and the Aus­tralian team still re­ceive lit­tle fan­fare when they tour the sub­con­ti­nent, in con­trast with the men’s side, who are mobbed at every cor­ner. But Healy feels the tide is turn­ing.

“To see how fa­nat­i­cal the In­di­ans are about their teams and about their play­ers is some­thing you can’t repli­cate any­where else in the world,” she says. “For the women’s game, it would be some­thing re­ally spe­cial and some­thing none of us will ever ex­pe­ri­ence in our home coun­tries.”

Alyssa Healy will head­line for the IPL Trail­blaz­ers against Ell­yse Perry’s Su­per­novas. Pic­ture: Jonathan Ng

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