Cricketer Alyssa Healy can’t pinpoint the exact moment she fell in love with the sport that would later become her profession, but she does have a friend to thank for encouraging her to pick up a bat.
“I started playing when I was seven,” she tells Future Women. “And I was a very reluctant cricketer. A friend from school took me down to try it, and I never wanted to play. Obviously my family play heavily and it didn’t really interest me that much. But I think once I learned the game, and once I started playing, and I had some friends in the game, I sort of fell in love with it from there.”
At no point did Healy think she would play for Australia. “Growing up I didn’t know there was an Australian women’s cricket team, I just saw the men on the TV,” she says. “I never really thought it was going to be a profession for me. It wasn’t really a dream of mine to play for Australia, it just sort of happened and, once I was there, I enjoyed myself too much to let that go.
“I thought once I got to 16 or 17 that was me done, I would go and do something else with my life. But all of a sudden at 19, I was playing for Australia and it sort of only hit me then that this was a real thing. Probably two or three years after that we became fully professional – well, to an extent – and it was then that I thought I could make a career out of this. If I give it a really good crack, this could be my job for an extended period of time. I think that’s how a lot of female athletes feel; it’s never really going to be a career for them, it’s just sort of a hobby on the side.”
Fortunately, times are changing. Now a career in professional cricket is possible for young sportswomen, thanks to increased funding and interest in the sport from a grass roots level right up to international test matches. Healy says she feels a responsibility to the “fully professional 16 and 17-year-old kids” coming up through the ranks.
“My generation, the late 20s/early 30s of cricket at the moment, have a responsibility to teach the younger girls about perspective,” she explains. “Everyone worked on the side, or went to uni, and had another part of their lives, that’s what made us enjoy our cricket even more, it was almost an escape. For them it’s going to be completely different.”
Some things haven’t changed though: “I think we’re realistic in the fact that your cricketing career doesn’t last forever, so what are you going to do post-cricket? It’s going to be really important. So for them to set themselves up at an early age is crucial and hopefully we can teach them that. If you’ve got balance in your life at that young age you’re less likely to get burnt out. Cricket is full on at the minute, and social media plays a big part in that, and I think at such a young age not getting burnt out is going to be really important.”
Balance is something of a non-negotiable for the sportswoman. She says being portrayed as a “normal person” is important to her, because while she does “everything I possibly can to play my best cricket, I enjoy my life outside of that”. Being married to professional cricketer Mitchell Starc makes escaping cricket hard, so her “switch-offs” are her two dogs “who need constant attention and walking”, and playing other sports. At the moment that’s golf.
She says: “On a day off, you’ll see me wandering around the golf course, playing eight holes with the 50/60-year-old ladies. That’s my normal. I get out there and I like to hear stories about their life and what they’ve done. There are a lot of ex-athletes at my club, so hearing them talk about their careers, and for them to follow mine as well, is really cool. That’s something I really enjoy doing. It’s the easiest way for me to switch off.”
It’s clear comparing career notes is something Healy feels passionate about, especially because it shows just how much women’s sport is changing in Australia.
“[We’re] probably getting the recognition so many of these older athletes deserve,” she says. “But in saying that, they’re not bitter about it at all. They absolutely love how far it’s come and for them to come out to our games in Sydney and cheer us on is really special.”
What hasn’t changed is the mentality among female athletes that they’ve had to work twice as hard as the men to win their place on the field. The cricketer says that’s not a bad thing.
“I think that females in sport are more realistic about where they’ve come from,” she says. “It’s always been a bit of a hard slog and they don’t want to throw it away that easily. It’s not just given to them and I think that’s where we differ [to the men]. We actually relish the opportunity to play for the teams we do and see ourselves on TV. It’s not just handed to us, we’re a bit more normal.”
Normalcy aside, Healy and her team are having to come to terms with increasing exposure – and the pressure that comes with the public eye.
“The word ‘role model’ has never really been a comfortable one for me,” says Healy. “I never thought I would be a really good role model for others, but for me, being who I am and being natural is going to show people that you can be yourself while you’re playing. And that’s simply how I do it. You show it by doing, and we’re doing that at the moment. You can’t be what you can’t see, and we’ve got a great opportunity to portray ourselves as athletes and cricketers on the field at the moment on the telly. I think if we’re doing it to the best of our ability, we’re going to show these young girls that they can do it as well.”
The cricketer says it’s not just girls shaking up Australian sport: “To see so many young boys coming out to Women’s Big Bash League, I think, shows cultural change. They don’t care if it’s men or women playing, it’s just cricket. They just want to watch it.”
The T20 World Cup is aiming to break the 20-year attendance record for a women’s sporting fixture, by getting over 90,000 people to the MCG for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup
Final in March. Purchase your tickets and support the movement here.
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