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Alyssa Healy – The Fresh Face of Australian Cricket

By Dan Hutton on September 20, 2018 in People

Niece of Ian, by Paul McMillan

With a surname synonymous with Australian cricket, it comes as little surprise that Alyssa Healy, like her famous uncle Ian, has risen through the ranks to become the country’s best wicket-keeper. The Beast caught up with the Aussie gloves-woman at Bronte Surf Life Saving Club during the month…

How are you this morning Alyssa?Very well, thank you.

Where did you spend your childhood? All over the shop. We moved to Sydney when I was seven; I was born up in Queensland on the Gold Coast and Dad moved down for work, so naturally we followed. I grew up in Epping and then I’ve moved around a little bit since.

And now you’re in Curl Curl?Yeah, now we’re on the Northern Beaches, which is ironic given that I’m doing this interview for an Eastern Suburbs magazine, but don’t hate me for it.

So what brings you to the Eastern Beaches? You’re playing for the Sixers in the WBBL, right? Yeah, I’m part of the Sydney Sixers, which is obviously heavily in this area – based in the east and the north of Sydney – and we’re part of the Women’s Big Bash League, which starts in December. It’s a huge summer for us coming up and the Sydney Sixers is one of the most enjoyable teams to be a part of.

And you guys play at the Sydney Cricket Ground? Yep, we’re based at the SCG.

What would you say are the best and worst things about the Eastern Suburbs? Obviously the beaches are a big drawcard, and I guess the multicultural nature of the area. Every time I come down here, whether it’s for recovery or for training, I just seem to meet people from all over the world that sort of flock to the Eastern Suburbs, which I feel is a really cool part of Sydney. And to come to little hidden spots like Bronte, get a really nice coffee and breaky and go for a swim, is what makes Sydney what it is and it’s a real attraction for people all over the country and all around the world.

Can you tell us a bit about the Women’s Big Bash League? Are you playing alongside players from other countries? We’ve had three years of the WBBL, which runs at exactly the same time as the Men’s Big Bash League, which has been going for a little bit longer than us. Each franchise, I think, can have four international players, exclud- ing the Australian players that are already playing for the franchise. At the Sydney Sixers we’ve got a Kiwi and two South Africans that play for us, and we have been really successful – out of the three seasons, we’ve won two of those titles. The Sydney Thunder won the first one, so the Sydney teams have been really successful. The Big Bash itself brings a whole lot of international cricketers to Australia to play cricket. In my mind it’s the premier domestic competition in the world. There are only a couple running, but it’s the one that everyone wants to come and be a part of. For us to be able to base ourselves at the SCG and play a lot of games there, either alongside the men or on our own, is really cool.

You first came to prominence in 2006 when you became the first girl to play among boys in the Private Schools Competition in New South Wales; can you tell us a bit about that? I can. That was one of the more unique experiences I’ve had in my life. I’ve played with the boys all my life growing up and it was nothing new to me. I got approached by the head of cricket at Barker College, up in Hornsby, and he asked if I’d be interested in playing cricket with the boys that summer and I said, “Why not? I’ll trial and if I’m not good enough, don’t pick me. I’ll play twos or threes or wherever you place me.”
As it happened, they picked me in the first XI and at 6am one morning Denham Hitchcock from Channel 9 was knocking on the front door of our house while my parents were away and my grandma opened it to him wanting a quote as to what was going on. I had no idea what was happening and he handed me the Daily Telegraph and there, next to a massive headline about Osama bin Laden, was a picture of me and two of my schoolmates and an article saying that an old boy had written a letter in saying it was a disgrace and a shame on the competition. It all got kicked up a little bit more than it should have, but at the same time I had a really great experience playing with the boys at school and some of them are still some of my closest mates, so I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Do you know who sent that email? I don’t remember his name. I think he was named in the article, but I don’t remember who it was. He can eat his words.

He’d be eating his words now… Yeah. We won the premiership that year, so having a girl in your team mustn’t be all that bad. That said, individually I didn’t have two great seasons, especially behind the stumps.

So you were keeping wicket for the Barker open team? Yeah, and came in and had a whack here and there. It was nothing new to me. I’ve played with the boys my whole life.

So which year were you born in? I was born in 1990.

17 years after Michael Jackson released Thriller… There you go, a bit of trivia.

How did you end up playing as wicket-keeper? Funnily enough, in my first year of playing proper cricket outside the plastic stumps and plastic balls, I was playing Under 10s at the Carlingford Waratahs, the local club, and it was one of the games of cricket where everyone had to have a go at everything – the first two weeks I got to bowl and bat and I thought I was going to be a fast bowler. It was exactly how I thought my cricket would be, then in week three it was my turn to have a go with the keeping gloves. It was ironic that it was so early on in the season and there was a little kid with the last name Healy running around. They thought, “Oh, we’ll give her the gloves, see what she can do,” and that was my last ever game as a bowler. From then on I was stuck with the gloves, and the following week I was playing in the Under 11s because the keeper was missing. Luckily it’s the best place to be on the field, so it wasn’t such a bad move.

How many broken bones have you had? A lot. I’ve broken a lot of fingers throughout my time as a wicket-keeper, but I haven’t actually had a major injury, touch wood. The only other thing I’ve broken is my nose and that was playing hockey, so I’ve been pretty lucky.

Your father, Greg, was part of the Queensland cricket squad, as was your uncle Ken, and obviously your uncle Ian was Australia’s Test wicket-keeper; what was it like growing up with those three guys around? Yeah, it was certainly interesting growing up with them around! I never wanted to play cricket when we were living in Brisbane. We were obviously spending a bit more time around the Healys then, like with Christmases and birthdays and special events. But I never really wanted to play cricket. I just never really saw it as something I wanted to do. When we moved to Sydney it was perchance that I fell into the game via a friend from school.
While I was growing up I didn’t really understand what they’d done and especially what Uncle Ian was doing. I sort of just saw him on the TV here and there and appreciated that, but it wasn’t until I played cricket a little more seriously, once I was playing rep cricket and playing for New South Wales – and he’d retired by then – that I sort of understood what he had done and how good he was and that it was potentially something that I could do as well.
It didn’t really have too much influence on me playing cricket, per se, but in saying that my dad’s thrown me countless balls over the years, especially when I was younger, so I guess I was lucky to have someone who’d been pretty successful in their cricketing career who was willing to throw me balls and make me get better, I suppose.

During the 2009/10 season you belted your highest score of 89 not out at faster than a run a ball and made the most dismissals of any wicket-keeper in the Women’s National Cricket League ever. In the last eight years, how much has the standard changed? Do you find it harder; is everyone catching up with you or is it similar? Yeah, I think it has changed from when we first started. The professionalism
of the women’s game has changed, especially over the last three or four years, and I guess with organisations and sponsors throwing a little bit more money in it’s affording girls more time to practise cricket. It’s not just a part-time job or a hobby for us anymore; it’s a way of life and it’s a job and a career.
To be able to practise your skill full-time, you’re naturally going to get better, and with a lot more full-time staff around us, strength and conditioning coaches, physios and coaches to throw you balls, you’re naturally going to get more athletic as well, so from my point of view it’s come on in leaps and bounds and it’s continually getting better the more that the girls are afforded more time to train.
It’s been really exciting; it’s nice to be a part of this generation. I feel really lucky that I’ve been a part of the era where it’s really grown and hopefully we can just keep making it better and better for the young ones coming through, because there’s some really talented kids out there who can now see a future in playing women’s cricket and I think that’s really exciting.

You’ve played Tests, one-dayers and Twenty20s for Australia;what’s your favourite form of the game? I love playing Test cricket. I think that’s the pinnacle of our game and it’s unfortunate for us women at the moment that it’s not really a reality for us. We only really get to play it for the Ashes every two years, which is pretty cool in itself. We play for the Ashes and you get to play a Test match, but unfortunately for us a lot of our game is T20 and one-day cricket – a lot of white ball stuff – but hope- fully we can continue marketing and promoting the game through those shorter formats and maybe one day Test cricket will come back. Every single Test I’ve been a part of has been really exciting, so hopefully there’s a future for it.

Do you have a career highlight thus far? I’ve had so many that it’s so hard to choose just one. I think being part of a side that won three T20 World Cups in a row and to be part of the Sixers and win two WBBL titles in a row is something really special. I think playing for New South Wales and being a part of the New South Wales Breakers is something really special too, and it’s probably a team that no one’s heard about but in the 21 years that the competition’s been going, the Breakers have won 19 out of those 21 titles. So for me to be a part of that and continue that success and that legacy that they’ve created, in my mind, is pretty special. It’s the best domestic sporting team in the country that no one’s heard of.

How did you get your break in the Aussie team? Being a wicket-keeper it’s often tough to break into a side and I was really lucky in the end. I debuted before the 2010 World Cup, due to injury. Jodie Fields, the keeper at the time, got injured a couple of weeks out from the World Cup and I wasn’t meant to be going – I was enjoying myself away from the game – and then I got the phone call that I was heading to the West Indies. I guess that was sort of a breakthrough for me.
It was like a Contiki tour for me but at the same time it was a real taste of proper cricket and playing in a World Cup. Winning that World Cup was an eye-opener and I guess it made me hungry to play for Australia more. I was in and out of the side after that with Jodie coming back in. I forced my way in to the team as a batter for a little bit and then I had to bide my time to get behind the stumps, but from my point of view that’s the best way to do it; to be made to wait to play for Australia makes you more hungry and I knew it was definitely something I wanted to do.

How old were you when you first played for Australia? I think I debuted when I was 18 or 19; 19 maybe.

Both you and Australian team-mate Ellyse Perry have publicly advocated girls playing against boys; how different is the standard between men and women currently? I think it’s a hard one to answer. I think the women’s game is continually growing, but for us when we were younger the only option was to play with the boys, because there were no female competitions at that younger age. There was obviously grade cricket that you could progress into when you got a little bit older, but for us the logical option was to play with the boys. Nowadays with Cricket Australia and everyone pumping a bit more money into it there’s a lot of female-only competitions out there, which is fantastic and it’s making young girls more comfortable playing the game with some mates, but if you’re comfortable playing with the boys it’s a real test of your skill, I guess.
The boys get big and strong a lot quicker than we do and being a 14 or 15 year-old girl playing with 14 or 15 year-old boys, you’re a lot smaller, but in saying that I think you learn about your game and you learn about the game a lot quicker, so there are upsides to both. I think playing in the women’s comps you learn a bit more about the women’s game, as we play it a little bit differently, but playing against the boys is a real test of your skill.

How long do you think it is before we see a female playing in the men’s comps? I think professionally it probably will never happen, and it’s something that I don’t think should happen. I think we both play different games. It’s funny, it’s an argument that we’re constantly dealing with. People, you know, say we bowl too slow…

What about a spin bowler? Is there a chance that some freakish female spinner could come out of nowhere and just turn everyone inside out? Yeah, I think that could happen, maybe in an exhibition style format. For me, I see it at home with Mitch (Alyssa’s husband is Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc), who’s 6’5″ and bowling at 140 kilometres an hour, because he should bowl that fast at that height, and you see someone like Ellyse Perry who’s bowling in the 120s and she’s a foot shorter than him and a lot lighter in frame. So for mine I think we actually punch well above our weight.
Maybe it might happen one day, but at this stage I think we’ll dominate the women’s game and if some freak of a player comes along and wants to give themselves a proper challenge I think go for it, but the reality of it is that the boys do things in their game that we’re not exposed to in our game. We don’t have anyone 6’5″ running in bowling at 140 kilometres an hour.
Realistically, if we trained and had a proper crack at it then maybe, but you can’t just expect a young female to be thrown in there and be able to handle it.

Do you think that remuneration should be based more on the marketability of players or the ability of players? How does it work now? Yeah, interesting question. It’s a hard one to answer. I think, at the end of the day, most of the girls now are potentially full-time and should be paid that way and paid for the games that they’re playing and the opportunity that we’re providing for young girls who see us out there playing the game. At the moment we’re sort of paid a retainer and then a match payment as we go. It’s a hard one because some people have the argument that we’re not bringing in money for the sport so why would they pay us, but it’s a vicious cycle. I think if you actually pay the players and invest in the players then they’re going to promote the game and market the game and therefore bring in money that way. It has to start somewhere and I think both investing in women’s cricket and investing in the players will start that off, and that’s something that’s been happening over the last few years and it’s definitely gotten bigger and better.

Well the money is coming in, right? Yeah, it is.

Do you think a woman playing for the Australian women’s team should be paid the same as a man playing for the Australian team, even though there’s that difference in ability due to the physiological side of blokes being bigger and stronger? I think right now I’d say no, but it has the potential to go that way. I think the biggest untapped market for cricket in this country and all around the world is females, and getting more and more females involved in the game. It’s not just playing either, it’s just being involved, like volunteering or in admin or coaching. By investing in the women’s game and the female players it’s only going to promote that further and therefore bring in more money that can be passed on. At the moment the men are seeing a lot more than we are, but that’s more than okay.

How is the Australian women’s team going on the world stage at the moment? At the moment we’re number one in all three formats, which is something that we can hold over the boys, but in saying that we don’t hold either of the T20 or the 50-over World Cups, so that’s something that’s coming up next for us, the T20 World Cup, and hopefully we can get that one back in our cabinet and then work towards the 50-over one in a few years’ time. The team’s going really well, though, so hopefully we can maintain that.

Your uncle, Ian Healy, was always considered a great ‘night watchman’; how do you feel about the concept of a night watchman generally? Are you a bit of a night watchwoman? No, I’m too aggressive for that. The day-night Test we just played in North Sydney last year for the Ashes, I was batting at seven and we lost a wicket late in the evening and I was asked if I wanted a night watchman to come in before me and I said no because the new ball had just been taken and two of the England quicks were steaming in and bowling fast. One of them is very aggressive and there is no way I would want to subject somebody else to that. I’m a super competitive person and I wanted to go out there and blunt their attack as much as I could. I could see the benefit, but at the same time if you’re a batter why not get out there and face it yourself?

I’m sure you recall Adam Gilchrist’s famous ‘walk’ in the 2003 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka; would you have done the same thing or would you have stood your ground? I’m not too sure because I’ve never really been in that position, but knowing me being super competitive I think I would’ve stood my ground. That said, I’m
a big believer in playing the game fairly and I would’ve felt really guilty afterwards, so potentially I may have walked, but in that situation I think I would’ve stood my ground and…

Waited for the umpire’s call?
Yeah, at the end of the day that’s their job so they can do it.

Even if you knew you were out, that you’d snicked it? Yeah, that happens every now and then. I feel like it evens itself out. The amount of times you get an absolute stinker of a decision, to get away with one every now and then is sort of a win.

Would you be pissed off if a team-mate walked when they weren’t given out and you lost the game or would you respect their decision? I would 100 per cent respect that decision, but at the same time I’d question it.

In 2016 you married fast bowler Mitchell Starc – I’m getting deep and personal here; how did you two meet? Funnily enough we played cricket together growing up. We played for the Northern Districts rep team and we played against one another in the club competition, so we’ve known one another since we were nine. Mitchell will recall the story of how we first met at Cheltenham Oval and I was the little blonde girl running around with the bob and he was one of 16 other blokes, so I had no idea who he was but he obviously remembers me because I was the only girl there. So we’ve known one another a very long time and yeah, it’s sort of progressed into a marriage, which is quite nice.

Do you ever have to settle domestic issues with a net session? No, actually we leave the cricket away from home as much as we can, butwe’re probably one of the more competitive couples going around so you’ll often see us on the golf course having a shootout.

Have you faced him? No, not at full tilt. I’ve faced him a little bit when he comes back from injury but, like I said before, he’s 6’5″ and he’s delivering the ball from 7′ and that’s something that’s so unique to men’s cricket. For me, he was bowling a comfortable pace but going forward, trying to drive it, he was hitting me in the splice of the bat, which was just so foreign to me. The bounce was just so uncomfortable. I have kept to him, though. We played a charity game up in Brisbane when he first started playing for Australia and I kept to him for the first time since like under 15, or under 16 cricket. The few beers the night before didn’t help, and the first one hit me in my gloves before I was even ready and I was like, “Whoa, he bowls it quicker than he used to!”

How do you feel about the current state of Australian politics? It’s a shambles, an absolute shambles, and for someone that doesn’t really know anything about politics but just watches on as an observer, it’s shameful for our country that we’re sort of seen as a bit of a joke when we change prime minister every six months, which is what it feels like. It’s a shame. For someone like Donald Trump to still be in a role, because he can’t get shafted, but then for someone who’s doing a pretty good job to just be turfed out is ridiculous.

What can we do to make things better? Well, I think ask the public, in my mind. We obviously vote in a party, but we also vote for the person that we think is going to do the best job for our country, so it’s a shame for the public to then turn around and see that the politicians themselves have made their own decision.

Does sport receive enough government funding in Australia? I have absolutely no idea. I guess so. I think some sports are pretty well funded, ours not so much. I think if there’s an even split, then definitely.

What should we do about all the people locked up on Nauru and Manus Island? Oh, Jesus Christ. I don’t know a whole heap about that, I’ll be honest with you. I’m heavily on social media so I see bits and pieces here and there, but it’s a hard one to answer. I think for me as a human being I don’t like seeing that. I think it tugs at your heartstrings a little bit to see people locked up, especially young kids, but at the same time I guess as a country where do we draw the line as to who’s coming in and who’s going out? It’s a difficult one, but I guess being a human being with a conscience, I don’t like seeing it.

Australian cricketer Phil Hughes was struck by a short-pitched ball in a Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and South Australia at the SCG on November 25, 2014. For the benefit of our readers who don’t follow cricket, the ball burst an artery in his neck, caused a haemorrhage in his brain and he tragically died two days later in hospital. What can be done to make the game of cricket safer, or do you think it’s safe enough already and we shouldn’t overreact to one freak incident? Yeah, Phil was a really good mate of ours. Mitch and him grew up playing cricket together at Western Suburbs when he moved down to Sydney, and they played for New South Wales together so it was a really difficult time for everybody in the cricketing community, whether you knew him as a mate or just knew him as a player. It was one of the hardest things that everyone had to go through, but I think safety-wise a lot is coming up post that incident, and while being a freak incident and something that we may never, ever see again, it’s nice to see that a few options have come in after that to make players feel more safe and more comfortable at the crease. I think with the stem guards and the new helmets, I think that’s good that we’re having that conversation about it.
At the same time, cricket is such a traditional game and the old days of a fast bowler coming in and trying to take your head off have sort of been lost a little bit because people are scared for that to happen again. It’s a hard one. You sort of want to see that contest in cricket but at the same time you don’t want to see anyone get hurt. As long as the players are comfortable at the crease then by all means have a crack, but it is a fine balance.

I’ve played cricket in some form or another my whole life and I’m still shit scared of a cricket ball; do you have any fear when you’re playing, or are you completely fearless? I think fear is a good thing to have. I think fear and nerves are some- thing that you want as an elite sportsperson. I think the fear of failure and I think the fear of get- ting hit is what makes you better because you turn that into, “Well, how can I not get hit and how can I get myself into a better position so I can hit the ball instead of it hitting me?”
For me, I don’t have that fear when I go out there. I think I’ve always been a good puller and hooker of the ball so I back myself to hit it. I think that getting hit in a game of cricket is part and parcel of it, and more often than not if you see me wandering around in the summer in a pair of shorts you’ll see bruises all over my legs.I guess you’ve got to remove that doubt and just back yourself to hit the ball.

Would your contract allow you to fill in for our indoor cricket team, the Bronte Gully Bats, if we’re ever short one week? Definitely.

Who were your role models growing up? I absolutely loved watching Ricky Ponting bat when I was a young cricketer and my first ever bat was the Ricky Ponting Kookaburra Ridgeback. I guess once I discovered that I loved playing sport, not just cricket – I played every sport under the sun – I used to look up to someone like Layne Beachley quite a bit. She was a very inspiring woman at that time.

She’s been on the cover of The Beast as well… Well, there you go, privileged! She’s one that I often talk about as being a real role model of mine, but in the cricketing space Ricky Ponting was a weapon and someone that I really wanted to bat like.

Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland has said that, “Sledging remains part of the game, but it’s up to umpires to ensure the line is not crossed.” What are your views on sledging? Are you a sledger? I completely agree with James on that one. I think sledging is a part of the game and cricket is such a mental game, not just a physical, skill-based game. It’s all about your mental resilience and part of that is copping it from the opposition. At the end of the day, there are 11 of them out there
and there are two of you batting so you’ve got to learn to be able to cop it a little bit. As a wicket-keeper it’s part of my role to keep the team up and to get stuck into the opposition team, so for me sledging is a part of my game and something that I quite enjoy. But I think that there is a definite line.

What is that line? I think there’s a personal line that I don’t think you should cross. When people’s partners and families and potential mistakes that they’ve made in the past are brought into the game, I think that’s where it can get nasty, but I think when there’s general banter out there that’s in jest and in no way threatening to the opposition I think it can be a bit of fun.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a professional cricketer? I have absolutely no idea. I was studying marine biology at university and I’m still trying to finish that degree, but it’s eluded me while I’ve been pursuing my cricketing career. I think I’d be playing sport of some sort. Like I said, I played every sport under the sun when I was younger and sort of fell into cricket, but I have no doubt that I would be playing some sort of sport.

What do your parents do for work? My dad worked for AMP for a bazillion years, doing financial planning and then corporate super, and my mum has worked a heap of different jobs doing what she loves.

What advice do you have for young girls, or for anyone for that matter, wanting to make it as a professional cricketer or a professional sports person? I think just enjoy it. That’s something that sticks with me, because at the end of the day what people forget is that if you want to play professional sport, it is your job, it’s your career, it’s the nine to five that everybody else is doing except it’s not nine to five, it’s seven days a week, longer hours. At the same time, it’s pretty cool to be able to travel the world doing something you love, so enjoy every moment and embrace it because realistically as an athlete your career doesn’t last long, so if you enjoy every moment while you’re there then it’ll be one hell of a ride.

What’s your favourite ground to play on? You can’t go past the SCG; it’s so iconic in world cricket. I think everyone dreams of playing at the SCG. Adelaide overall is probably one of the most picturesque grounds to go and play at, too, and it has so much history.

It’s still got a hill… And it’s still got a hill, which is a bit of fun.

Do you have much time to do charity work or anything like that? I do bits and pieces. I feel like I was put on this planet to help other people. I’m an ambassador for the Chappell Foundation at the moment, which does some fantastic work in raising money and awareness for youth homelessness in the country, which is something really pertinent that no one really knows about. At the moment I’m doing a bit of work for them, but stuff pops up left, right and centre that’s easy to be a part of.

In a perfect world what does the future hold for Alyssa Healy? Great question! Hopefully happiness. At the end of my career I want to look back and know that I contributed positively to successful teams and left nothing out there on the park. I’m a really competitive person and I love to play cricket. I’m not so much the trainer,
but I love to play and I love the competitive nature of the game. Once I finish my career I can go and do whatever it is I might want to do at the time and hopefully have a long marriage, have some kids and settle down next to a beach somewhere and bum about for the rest of my life.

And beat your husband at golf… Yeah, that happens regularly already anyway!

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