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Alyssa Healy: Growing the women's game in India is our real job

Australia icon looks to broaden her horizons during transformative stint at WPL

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
Captain Alyssa Healy gathered her UP Warriorz team-mates one day in the team hotel and asked each one of them to write down their answer to the question: "What do I want to get out of this season?" whether on or off the field. Many overseas players wrote about learning the Indian culture, someone wrote about enjoying every moment of the WPL, one about sharing her experiences and another about learning from the seniors, and so on.
The objective of this exercise was break the ice between the players, get them to trust each other, and form a well-knit unit, and not just a squad of 16. Even though Healy does not take the credit for this - it was suggested by the team owner Jinisha Sharma - she says "it was a little tough initially" for them to get together and form relationships quickly, because the squad didn't have much time to know one another between the T20 World Cup, which ended on February 26 in South Africa, and the WPL, which began on March 4 in Mumbai.
Now that the team has been together for two weeks and a few games, Healy is unflinchingly working towards her own objective for the WPL: to get the most out of the Indian domestic players.
These players are amazing and it's not about us, it's almost about them and helping grow the sport here
Healy on the young Indian players within the UP squad
"I feel like sometimes we forget that this is the WPL, and this is the Indian league and we're the foreigners coming in to play a part and play a role and do our job," Healy told ESPNcricinfo. "But this is more so about growing the game in India and seeing these young, amazing Indian players get a chance on a big stage to show everyone what they can do. I think sometimes the international players come in and sort of overshadow that fact.
"There's a lot of talk about all the international players making all the runs and taking all the wickets, but what the UP Warriorz in particular have as a strength is we've got some really good Indian players within our squad that are really going to shine at the right times, and our job as international players is to complement that and do our job where we can."
Warriorz have won only two of their first four games, but they can boast a line-up that covers most bases, if not all. They have the fastest bowler in the world, Shabnim Ismail, who has already bowled 127.5kmh; their spin duo of Sophie Ecclestone and Deepti Sharma has picked 13 wickets together with economy rates of 7.03 and 8.20 respectively in a high-scoring tournament; Grace Harris is a belligerent finisher, and Tahlia McGrath has struck two half-centuries already, with an overall strike-rate of nearly 160.
It is the Indian names, however, that Healy wants to focus on. Twenty-eight-year-old hard-hitting batter Kiran Navgire, allrounder Devika Vaidya who is now opening the batting for them with the captain, middle-order batter Simran Shaikh, and Under-19 star Shweta Sehrawat, who opened initially but has been moved down the order now.
"A Deepti Sharma, a Raja [Rajeshwari Gayakwad]…everybody knows them already, they've played for India, but there's players like Devika, to come in and do what she did [making 36 not out in a ten-wicket win against RCB] and just remind everyone that these players are amazing and it's not about us, it's almost about them and helping grow the sport here," Healy elaborated further. "I've been trying to communicate that to them and that's where the trust is being formed, that I'm here for them, I'm here to promote them, I'm not here to promote myself and give myself the best opportunities to go out there and make runs or take wickets. I want them to do that and them to be really proud of themselves at the end of the tournament."
Healy has, after all, already played nearly 250 international games for Australia, plus all eight seasons of the WBBL (including two titles), and she also featured in the last season of the Hundred as well, for Northern Superchargers. She will be 33 later this month, and with the kind of maturity that often comes with age, exposure and experiences, Healy wants to give back to the game, even if it means to players of another team, who have been coming close to beating Australia in recent finals.
"A big thing is that cricket is such a small part of our lives and at the end of the day it's not everything in our lives either, and we sort of forget that, we get wrapped up in how important cricket is and it's the be-all and end-all," Healy explained. "But at the end of the day, you're going to retire and you have your whole life ahead of you so if you can learn some skills or learn how to be a well-rounded person in your cricketing career, I think that's going to be beneficial for the rest of your lives, so an exercise like that (about achieving something from WPL) is really exciting for the group to think, 'ok, what do I want to get out of the WPL?'
"It's not just about runs and wickets and being the best player in the competition. A lot of them have written out there that they want to dive in and experience our culture and get to know me, and for me, mine is like to dive in and experience the Indian culture a little bit more and get to know some of these girls and their families outside of cricket, and things like that. Making a commitment and putting it on a board means that you're accountable for that and you walk in there every day and say, 'am I living that?' So that was a big push from Jinisha [Sharma, the owner], which I was really excited by, because it's sort of one of my life mottos as well."
According to Lisa Sthalekar, the Warriorz mentor, Healy went to Deepti, the vice-captain after joining the squad to say, "I'm here to help you, this is your side, you're from UP, I'm the outsider, let me help you guide this team, because you'll be in this team for as long as you want whereas I'm here for a small amount of time." Sthalekar has known Healy for well more than a decade from her domestic cricket days and was Healy's team-mate in each of her three debuts in international cricket, back in 2010 and 2011. She says Healy has always been about the bigger picture "for as long as I can remember".
"People may love her or hate her, she does polarise people, but one thing is that she's always seen the game broader than just her own experience in that one moment," Sthalekar said. "A prime example is that T20 World Cup [final in 2020] at the MCG. She could have had blinkers to the World Cup final thinking 'it's in my home country, we are expected to win, we only just got into the final'. But what does she and all the rest of the players do? They open the blinkers up and go, 'this is actually bigger than us. This is about past players, it's about volunteers, it's about women's sport in this country'. She took all of that on and went, 'I'm just going to live this moment and enjoy it,' and she had a smile from ball one, even before she hit a four, and then just soaked it up."
Healy took India down in that 2020 final with a momentous and brutal 75 off 39 that gave Australia an 85-run victory. Exactly three years later, she is now leading a side full of Indians - some experienced and many raw - to share her experiences with them, to groom and chaperone them, and prepare them for the big stage where she has lifted many a trophy.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo