scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Sunday, May 29, 2022

From tragedy to triumph: the Alyssa Healy story

The Aussie World Cup hero has had to deal with her sister’s death and misogyny on way to a big hundred in the final.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: April 4, 2022 8:32:50 pm
Alyssa realised the consistency of success would depend on her leg-side play to spinners in the middle overs. (Twitter/Cricket Australia)

“Cricket has given me an escape from the grief and sadness of losing someone in your family.”

When a 12-year-old Alyssa Healy was watching television at her home after school, her mother, hit by a premonition, told her she was going to see her sister Kareen play footy. Usually, Kareen, four years older, would be dropped home by a friend’s mom or the mother would go fetch her late so that young Alyssa wasn’t alone. That day, though, she told Alyssa. “I just feel like I need to go watch Kareen play.”

Sometime later, a friend of her mom landed up at home, told Alyssa to spend the night at their house as the mother would be late. “I remember having the best night of my life.” No one told her that life at the Healy household would never be the same again. Next morning, her mom told her, “Kareen collapsed at touch footy and she is in hospital on life support. And it’s not looking good”.

Alyssa wasn’t sure how to react, thought the sister would be back home safe soon, but the look on her mother’s face told her otherwise. She had suffered an anaphylactic reaction, gone into cardiac arrest, and slipped into a coma.

Couple of days later, Alyssa walked out of a cricket ground after hitting a hundred to see her father waiting. “They’d just switched off the life-support and if you want to go and say your last goodbyes, you could go and do that”. At this point in a remarkable chat on the Sam Squiers show ‘On her game’, Alyssa chokes up. She collects herself to add: “it was a surreal day of a nice memory turned into a horrible one and interestingly enough, it’s always sort of on that day we play a game of cricket and funnily enough I seem to make a hundred every year, which is, um, kind of bizarre. It’s a bizarre feeling but a nice one as well.”

***

Alyssa backs away outside leg-stump and smashes the English spinners over the off-side. Repeatedly. On the biggest stage of ’em all, the World Cup final, on her way to a match-winning 170. It’s a shot that has almost disappeared from the men’s game. Pakistan’s Salim Malik was a master of it, but now not many have the dare to do it. Alyssa has. Australia were jogging at 90 in 20 overs but with a combination of that shot and the lap-shot, she seized the World Cup in the middle overs.

Some of the leg-side shots came after Australia’s loss to India in the last World Cup. Soon after Matthew Mott, Australia’s coach, told her that he wants her to open the batting instead of trying to be the finisher. Alyssa realised the consistency of success would depend on her leg-side play to spinners in the middle overs. She teamed up with friend Ash Squire, who was her husband Mitchell Starc’s best man at the wedding, and went to work on her sweep shots. In a game against England in the last World Cup, she was out LBW trying to flick the ball to the untenanted square-leg region. Now, post the work on the sweep, oppositions have to pack that side for her, allowing her the room to back away and smash the ball over cover. In the lead-up to this World Cup, she again worked with Squire, this time on the lap shots that she would unfurl so effectively in the biggest game of her life.

***

One of her big games earlier in life had come tagged with a terrible smear. At her high school at Bakers College when she was 17, she was picked for the first eleven. The only girl to be picked to play with the boys in an upcoming tournament.

Next morning at 6 am, a reporter from Channel Nine news landed up at her home. Her parents were away, and she was living with her grandmother when the reporter thrust a newspaper at her and asked if she had seen the news?

Alyssa stared at a headline about Osama Bin Laden with a photo of her in her school jersey holding a bat. It turned out that one of the Old Boys, alumni of her school, had sent a letter in disgust at the inclusion of a girl in the boys’ team, of how it was a disgrace and such. The media had got hold of it and ran with it. She didn’t take the train that day to school, and had someone drop her at school, where the media were milling around the gate. She slid through a side entrance and for the rest of the day watched her principal handle the spectacle at the gates.

“That was probably the first time that I really felt supported by the whole community. I think that, you know, a lot of the time there is a lot of that scrutiny, ah, about females playing sport and, you know, and whether or not they can handle that… it was weird, um, I probably didn’t fully understand it. I think now I’m a little bit older and I probably see what happens, probably in society a little bit more than I did back then. I was, I always just thought growing up playing with the boys, I was one of the boys, I never thought any different… Yeah, but being a young female, being put under that much pressure, on the front page of the newspaper with a fairly nasty headline underneath,” she tells ‘On her Game’.

From the death of her sister to misogyny, cricket has been Alyssa’s healer. It would also offer love. From 9 to 15, she would play with Starc, who was trying to be a wicketkeeper in those days. He was yet to shoot up in height, then. “He’s stretched big time around the 15.” They were just friends then, with Alyssa preferring to hang around with the other guys in the team as Starc would be pretty quiet. “I probably didn’t remember Mitch that much, he was quiet, um, as he still kind of is, really quiet, very reserved… he always tells the story that, um, he always remembered me. Well, I was the only girl in the side so naturally (laughs), so naturally the boys are going to remember that…. He often jokes that he still remembers going down to Cheltenham Oval at nine and seeing this little blonde girl running around playing cricket, so it’s kind of cute!”

***

Even though cricket was in her veins, with her father who played for Queensland and her uncle Ian Healy, it wasn’t until her first game for Australia, she says, that it turned serious for her. That first game wasn’t particularly memorable. She dropped a catch on the first ball and off the last ball of the game, when they needed three runs to win, she nicked it behind. But the cricket buzz had begun to hum in her ears. She remembers being puzzled and even disappointed when Belinda Clark gathered that team around and announced that from now on, they would focus on T20s.

“Belinda Clarke stands up at the front and says, ‘this is the way that we’re going to take women’s cricket, we’re going to play T20, we’re only really going to play that format, and this is how we’re going to market the game.’ And I remember sitting there feeling so disappointed at the time. I thought, ‘I just want to play Test cricket, that’s what Uncle Ian did, it’s what all the boys do, I just want that Baggy Green and I just want to play Test cricket’. Now, years later, I can see what an amazing step that was from them to say ‘this is how we’re going to do it’ and how much it’s opened up the game to the rest of the country and I guess the rest of the world as well.”

When the World-Cup winning catch was taken at mid-off, one of the cameras zoomed on Alyssa’s face. The muscles are wound up in expectation, eyes on the ball, and she leaps up once it’s nestled in the palms of her friend Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa aka ‘Midge’ as her teammates call her, leaped and clapped her gloved palms together and ran to her team-mates. “I am 32 and I have seen it all. Our team sets out to win events like these. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d do something like that [the big hundred at the top] so it is pretty cool,” she would say later.

When Squires asks her in the podcast what she would tell a 10-year-old version of herself if she could rewind the clock, Alyssa, the self-confessed pest and trickster, turns solemn: “I wish I had hugged my sister a little bit more, that’s what I would have told my 10-year-old self to enjoy those family times together, not fight so much, hug her a little bit more.”

For all the latest Sports News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement