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Healy and Haynes, the fine line between desire and deed, and a date with World Cup destiny

The two could have been lost to Australian cricket if they had given in to their self-doubts. They didn't, and the system needs to be lauded for that

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Alyssa Healy and Rachael Haynes put on a 216-run opening stand  •  ICC via Getty Images

Alyssa Healy and Rachael Haynes put on a 216-run opening stand  •  ICC via Getty Images

On a day Australia reached a record seventh ODI World Cup final, it's worth thinking about what might have been had Alyssa Healy and Rachael Haynes acted on their desire to walk away from cricket.
It was something both Healy and Haynes, the chief architects of their 2022 World Cup semi-final triumph over West Indies, considered between the winter of 2016 and the spring of 2017. There was uncertainty and frustration, on strictly individual levels, with how much they wanted to give cricket and how little of that goal they were likely to achieve.
"For me, I probably look back and, as a 26- [or] 27-year-old, at that moment in time, I was probably just a really frustrated cricketer," Healy said after Australia's 157-run win over West Indies, reflecting on her career trajectory since considering an alternate career path around 2016-17. "I probably didn't quite know where I fit in.
"I had obviously had a role in the team: it was behind the stumps, and it was sort of to come in, ice the innings, and play those big shots at the back end. So, from that point of view, yes, I felt a little bit frustrated, I thought I could be able to do more, but I probably didn't believe that I could actually achieve any more than that."
Healy's disappointment arose from misgivings about her potential. At that point, till the 2017 Ashes, nearly eight years into her international career, she had been involved in four World Cup-winning campaigns. But her inability to make a role in the batting line-up her own, having been shunted from No. 1 down to No. 9 across formats, kept her from blossoming into the explosive batter she became much later.
Haynes, for her part, was grappling with the demands of juggling a full-time day job at a marketing firm and training as an elite, but underpaid, domestic cricketer toiling away in the hope of a national comeback after a three-year gap. It was at this juncture, in late 2016, that retiring from the sport seemed the easiest way out.
Cut to March 30, 2022.
"It's been a really enjoyable thing that I've been able to see myself grow as a person off the field but as a cricketer as well, to just keep growing and keep developing"
Alyssa Healy
Australia were up against West Indies. It was the semi-final of an ODI World Cup where, five years ago, then defending champions Australia's campaign had "turned to custard". Dubbed favourites, Australia went into Wednesday's game undefeated in the competition. But lessons from the past, a few hiccups in their batting performance throughout the tournament, and overcast conditions at Basin Reserve meant hard work was still needed after West Indies sent them in.
The runs were hard to come by in the powerplay, so openers Healy and Haynes responded with circumspection and "patience", as Healy would later say. But it wasn't long before Healy, the star of the 2020 T20 World Cup final, shifted gears, zooming from 11 from 29 to 129 from 107. It was her first century in eight World Cups across limited-overs cricket, and it handed her the Player-of-the-Match distinction in a second straight world tournament knockout.
A big factor in Healy's rise as a leading force in limited-overs cricket since finding herself in a whirlpool of self-doubt, which in part coincided with Australia's elimination in the 2017 World Cup semi-final, has been Australia head coach Matthew Mott. It was Mott, who handed Healy opening duties for the assignment that came soon after the World Cup: the multi-format Ashes at home.
The promotion would set Healy off on an astounding shift from a slugger to a beast. Her ODI average, which was 15.96 in 41 innings till the 2017 World Cup, boomed to 49.35 in the 41 innings since. In fact, of her five international centuries, four of those in ODIs, came since she took the opener's spot.
"From that moment on [in 2016-17], when Motty tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'We want you to open in that home Ashes series, we want to sort of take our style of play down this route, and we're giving you that responsibility to go out there and enjoy it,' I felt a little bit backed," Healy said. "I felt, maybe, it was the right time as well to be able to get that opportunity. And, I guess, that self-belief just developed over time.
"I've had to change a few things technically over the years to stay in that role and continue to keep combating some unbelievable bowlers that share the new rock. It's been a really enjoyable thing for me that I've been able to see myself grow as a person off the field but as a cricketer as well, to just keep growing and keep developing, because five years ago, I probably wasn't sure how much more I could get out of myself. So, to be able to say that came true has been really cool."
Against West Indies, Healy anchored a 216-run opening stand with New South Wales (NSW) team-mate Haynes, who struck an enterprising 100-ball 85 to go atop Australia's run chart this competition.
Had Cricket NSW not offered Haynes three days of work per week within the state cricket set-up, to help her find a semblance of balance juggling life, training, and her job, she would have quit professional cricket. Neither Haynes' return to the national team in early 2017, albeit via a surprise call-up on the back of injuries to several senior mainstays, nor her appointment as captain in the 2017 Ashes in the injury-enforced absence of Meg Lanning would have been a reality.
Her 12 fifties and two hundreds in ODIs, a vital contribution to Australia's record 26-match winning streak in the format, and multiple rescue acts in bilateral series and limited-overs World Cups would not have actualised either.
"It's really funny to potentially even think that Rachael wouldn't have been there today…," Healy said. "I guess, the one thing that we're afforded in this group and in situations like that is perspective, and I think Rachael's an unbelievable perspective on life. She's got a little boy [Hugo] at home. I'm sure Leah [Poulton], her partner and little Hugo would love to be over here, cheering her on in the final but, I guess that gives us perspective.
"For me to walk out with Rach, who is just the ultimate calm head; she's got a great cricketing brain... To be able to bounce ideas off her when I'm sort of bouncing around at the other end full of energy is really cool.
"From the second ball today that she smashed through the covers and punched the glove, I saw this look in her eye, where she said, 'Come on, we're going to beat today'. It scared me a little bit, and I thought I better switch on and pay attention at the other end to make sure I'm doing my job as well. So, to have someone like that at the other end makes my job a lot easier, let me tell you."
The fine line between desire and deed that kept Haynes and Healy, now 35 and 32 respectively, in the national set-up also went on to help underscore Australia's superiority over the rest of the world.
"You just look at the professionalism of the game. We're really lucky in Australia that we're well-supported, and it's made having a cricketing career for a further extended period of time a lot easier to sort of manage," Healy said about lessons Haynes' career arc could offer women's cricket set-ups in countries that aren't as well-resourced. "It wasn't that long ago that you got to 30 and had to retire because life was starting to take over you.
"You couldn't afford to pay your bills, pay your rent, whatever it might have been. You needed to go and work full time outside of the game, and that wasn't always an option. Now that it's fully professional, it's affording these amazing women an opportunity to continue their cricketing career well into their 30s…"
On a day when Healy and Haynes yet again vindicated the faith the system has reposed in them in Australia's pursuit of World Cup redemption, the pair's journeys reinforced how stories of what-ifs can become celebrations of potential realised if talent is nurtured. A bit of foresight into backing players and investing in professionalising the women's game, as Healy and Haynes exemplify, can go a long way towards achieving that goal.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha