Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The head sinks after a huge, protracted sigh is let out. You cannot be sure if it's one of relief or disappointment, or an even more obscure blend of both. Obvious visual clues are scarce, so much of what you grasp of the varied celebrations in the Sydney Sixers dugout, following their final-over victory against the Melbourne Stars, would depend on what you read between the lines and on the faces.
One of those faces, still conspicuously buried between the knees, remains the focus of the medium camera shot - and the Sixers dugout itself - for a substantial length of time. But unless you're decidedly familiar with shirt No. 77 among this group of elite Australian and overseas cricketers, you'd be tempted to second-guess yourself if it indeed was Alyssa Healy you saw moments ago on your TV screen sink into that chair, head bowed, fingers clasped, after her team-mates sealed a daunting 184 chase, the joint highest-successful one in WBBL history.
Those initial muted moments of Healy's celebration do not give much away for the viewer to at once grasp the distinction of her 52-ball 111 that lay at the heart of the Sixers' final (winning) bow this season. Her fourth hundred across six editions of the competition, and one that came at the third-quickest pace ever - 48 balls - was the highest an individual has ever made in a successful WBBL chase and, more impressively, done so scoring a record-equalling 96 of that tally in boundaries. This was her final performance of a year that a little over nine months ago also included the defining MCG innings against India.
In Healy's own view, though - "considering it didn't really mean a lot" when viewed in the larger scheme of the Sixers' second straight league-stage elimination - the hundred "probably [ranks] low down there" on the catalogue of distinctions in her WBBL career. Not typically one to bring out elaborate on-field celebrations for personal milestones or generally spotlight herself off the field, except when routinely baiting her team-mates into social-media banter or subjecting herself to self-deprecating witticisms, Healy's admission of the relative insignificance of her knock on Sunday is not entirely out of character.
However, what did appear somewhat atypical of Healy on the day, much like her low-key post-victory acknowledgment of the result in the dugout, was the sight of her pointing at the Sixers logo on her shirt, twice. Knowing fully well at the passage of the sixth-over mark that her team was out of contention for a semi-final berth, a gentle tap of her gloved fist at the logo on her chest upon reaching her 27-ball fifty struck as a gesture one commonly wouldn't associate with an Alyssa Healy celebration. That she would do it again after bringing up the three-figure score, this time more emphatically, with the helmet, came across as an unambiguous - if inadvertent - expression of playing with pride, much more than for it.
Alyssa Healy's final innings of the year was among her most destructive•Getty Images
Such has been her evolution since her maiden WBBL hundred in January 2018, which triggered an explosion of personal milestones - including her maiden international ton just weeks later - that her well-established batting and wicketkeeping distinction has exponentially expanded her stature beyond the boundary, too. Often a tricky professional cargo for athletes to lug, if her unabashed social-media advocacy of the growing profile of the WBBL and the women's game at large has been any indication, suffice to say, Healy has been squarely gameful in embracing the new responsibilities her evolving stature has thrust upon her.
In August, amid the debate around the clash in scheduling between this year's WBBL and Women's T20 Challenge, ESPNcricinfo had asked Healy if she subscribes to perception of her having grown into - if unwittingly - a formidable spokesperson of the women's game.
"I am just happy to speak my mind," she would respond, smiling, but in a matter-of-fact way. "We can tend to get caught up in getting in trouble on whether we say the right thing or coping a bit of slander on Twitter when potentially having a different stand to somebody else. But if we are standing up for our game or for what it needs, and we've got support from other players as well from here living it, I think it reinforces that we are doing the right thing.
"Unfortunately for us, women within cricket, within sport, we're often sort of nervous to speak out. It's almost seen like we should be really grateful for everything we've been given, that we should be really grateful for the opportunity to play… we need people within our game to keep pushing to see women's cricket grow, not just here in this country, not just in India, but all around the world."
ALSO READ: How Alyssa Healy went from slugger to beast
And there's another reality for athletes of her gender to contend with. Much like Associate cricket, the women's game is yet to reach a place of security where anomalies in results are viewed solely through the lens of cricketing objectivity. Until that happens, skillful bowling displays will continue to remain buried under outright criticism of the opposition batting unit's sub-50 T20 innings total, as witnessed during the recently concluded T20 Challenge. Invariably they balloon into talk on the dearth of the "fun" quotient in watchability, often deemed by detractors of women's sport as the bedrock of the enduring allure of most men's sports.
The casualty, more often than not, is the airtime, more game time and investments by national boards that a more objective assessment among fans and casual followers of the game may have otherwise brought to women's or Associate cricket. So the limited opportunities that these two section of athletes typically get, and now in particular within the highly gendered - and problematic - matrix of sport in the time of Covid-19, make it all the more important for athletes of Healy's stature to play with pride.
So what if her team was out of the knockouts race much before her hundred on Sunday gained an air of imminence about it? It was another spectacular innings by one of the best modern-day cricketers, an ambassador of the sport she may not have wittingly set out to be. No one denies these remain challenging times, but everything must be done to ensure the game can see as much of Healy - and many others - as possible.