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Monday, May 25, 2020

Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy and the greatest cricketing night of their lives

Contrasting characters with diverse interests — Australia women's team openers have been instrumental in their team clinching the fifth T20 World Cup title, scoring a combined 153 runs in the final.

Written by Sriram Veera | Updated: March 9, 2020 3:56:47 pm
beth mooney, mooney, alyssa healy, healy, australia vs india, india vs australia, women t20 world cup final, women t20 world cup, t20 world cup, cricket news Alyssa Healy (75 off 39 balls) and Beth Mooney (78 off 54 balls) propelled Australia to 184/4. (Source: Reuters)

Beth Mooney is eight and loves going on biking on the esplanade with her father and walk her dog, Jasper. She also liked playing cricket with her brothers in the backyard. One day, her brothers’ team was a boy short and her dad piped up, “why don’t you have a go?” She ran from fine-leg to fine-leg that day, “the fielding spot for the worst player in the team”, but soon caught the imagination of the team.

From 11 to 18, she played for Hervey Bay’s boys’ Cavaliers before she joined for Queensland Fire while pursuing her teaching degree, which she would take a big call to drop out to hang on to her cricket dream. Alyssa Healy was a teenager when she joined Dr. Barkers college and said she would love to play the combined team for boys and girls. There was no precedent but the men in charge Thomlinson and Andrew Payne felt why not.

The boys, in particular the bowlers, had a doubt: should they bowl as fast as they usually do or send it slower? As fast as you can, was the answer from the coaches and Perry soon made those doubts redundant. Further proof came in their first game against Trinity college when a left-handed boy sent a bouncer first-up and in Thomlinson’s telling, “She just side-stepped and hooked it for a four”. Now, even the oppositions had no doubt left.

Healy likes to belt the ball freely; Mooney likes to punctuate her deft glides with perfectly-placed inside-out drives over covers. Healy keeps, Mooney wants to keep for the national team; she does for her other first-class teams. Midge, as Healy is called by her friends, is more gregarious, comfortable in her skin, possesses a natural ease about her, and is always playing pranks on her team-mates. Mooney is more reserved though blunt who speaks her mind.

READ | Australia show class again as India thrashed in World T20 final

Three years back, when Healy was on top of her game and known worldwide, Mooney was in the middle of a semi-crisis. Fiercely ambitious, she felt her game would improve if she got to play county cricket in England.

But when she approached Australia’s head coach Matthew Mott, she was shown the mirror. “Until you get to the minimum level where we think your lack of fitness isn’t compromising your skills, you have to stay back.”

beth mooney, mooney, alyssa healy, healy, australia vs india, india vs australia, women t20 world cup final, women t20 world cup, t20 world cup, cricket news Australia players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Women’s T20 World Cup final. (Source: Reuters)

An unhappy Mooney was fired up with a desire to prove people wrong – and interestingly, prove herself wrong. Over the years, she had internalised the mansplaining around her that she can’t be really fit, she can’t run as fast as others. Her response to Mott’s frank words was stunning. She rewound to her childhood days at the coastal town of Hervey Bay, bought a road bike and cycled 50 km every day.

“I wanted to prove myself wrong, instead of just accepting, ‘you’re never going to be this; you are never going to be that’,” she told The transformation was stunning. She used to run two-km in 10 minutes; she is now the fourth-fastest in the national team. Improved fitness and that mindset led to greater and consistent performances for the last three years. The desire isn’t new. Six years ago, she had taken a decision to quit teaching degree as she felt it would end up hurting her cricket.

Watch | Dancing bats, record crowd, Australia shine at MCG in Women’s T20 WC final

“I didn’t want to be 30, and have regrets about what could have been had I tried.” She plunged herself into the professional world of cricket and once she amped her fitness, she has been on a ride of her life. The Australian media have mentioned a recent “family crisis” without divulging any details and she has talked about how the T20 world cup would allow her to get away from an over-worrying “brain”.

Healy’s journey has been well documented. A niece of Ian Healy, former wicket-keeper for Australia, she jostled with Mitchell Starc, her future husband, for wicket-keeping duties from the age of 10-14. Both wanted to be the keeper in the combined team and ended up sharing the gloves until Starc moved away to become a fast bowler. “Growing up, I was one-of-a-kind, the only girl in my team. I thought that was normal, just one of the boys, and I was definitely a tomboy, and still am,” Healy would say later.

READ | 2003 and 2020: A tale of two Aussie dominations

As a kid, she would go to watch her uncle Ian play for Australia and not get why he wasn’t running to shake her hands during training. Healy, however, had entered the world cup with some of her worst form leading up to it. Just 15 runs in five innings in a tri-series involving England and India. Her coach Mott and the captain Meg Lanning weren’t fussing too much.

“The swing is back in nets, she’s being cheeky as ever and she is couple of shots away from being back in form,” Lanning would say at the start of the tournament. They were right; only nervous ones were the opposition bowlers.

When she isn’t playing, Mooney loves walking and spending phone-free time with her dog Ruby and is a coffee aficionado, hunting down cafes wherever she goes. Perhaps, in the years to come, Beth and Midge would sit in a café somewhere, and talk about the greatest cricketing night of their lives.

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