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Feature

Big-match beast? Nah, just 'brave', and that'll do just fine for Alyssa Healy

She broke records, and English hearts, with one of the great ODI innings of all time to lead Australia to yet another World Cup title

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
03-Apr-2022
Don't call Alyssa Healy a big-game player. She doesn't like it.
"It sounds a bit arrogant," she had said after scoring her maiden World Cup century, in the semi-final against West Indies on Thursday. "When someone says that… at the end of the day, I've been saying it all along this World Cup, it hasn't really been a one-man show at any point."
Three days on, Australia were at their final destination, Christchurch's Hagley Oval. Under a sparkling blue sky, they were sent in to bat by defending champions England, who they hadn't met in a 50-over world tournament final since 1988, at a venue they hadn't played at after 2000.
New day. New ground. A fresh pitch. A fresh start? Everything except Healy's segue from the 129 from the semi-final to her colossal 170 in the summit clash that set up Australia record seventh ODI World Cup title win.
How do you describe Healy, then? Especially the version of the batter that now has two Player-of-the-Final awards in as many world tournaments, across the limited-overs formats, not to forget the many other accomplishments since being handed full-time opening duties after Australia's shock ouster in the 2017 World Cup semi-final?
"Not sure I'll let you name it. I'll let you find it," Healy said, smiling, at the press interaction after the final, even as Meg Lanning sat beaming by her side. "But, 'brave'? I just think you've got to be brave to come out in situations like that to be able to play your game.
"You know that the opposition are going to come really hard at you. They want to take your wicket early and you got to be brave and back your skills. So, personally, I'm really proud of that. I still don't think I'm a big-game player. So, turn that down, but you just got to be brave to be able to do it."
"The bowlers tried their best, but the pressure that she built against us, it was just a top knock, wasn't it?"
Heather Knight
On Sunday, Healy etched her name in the record books, more than once, with her 138-ball knock in Australia's 97-run win. Her haul at this World Cup swelled to a whopping 509 runs, making her the first woman to score 500 runs in a 50-over World Cup, the first player (man or woman) to hit 150 or more in the final of a world tournament, and the first to hit a century in the semi-final and the final in one edition of a World Cup.
"I don't think I've ever dreamt of anything like that before, I can guarantee you that," Healy said. "But I'm just really proud to have been able to contribute to this win. I messaged Pez [Ellyse Perry] this morning when I found out she was in the XI and I said, like, 'I just want to be a part of it. I really want this. I want to contribute to this win and to be able to do that was really special'.
"I ran drinks the whole 2013 World Cup. You know we didn't make the final in 2017. So, for me, this trophy means a lot and to be able to turn up at the back end and go all right in the last two games means a whole heap."
Healy's 170 also surpassed Adam Gilchrist's 149 as the highest score in a World Cup final [in 2007].
"That's pretty cool, [but] I'm not in the game for that sort of stuff. Getting our team into a winning position was the most important thing," Healy said. "I guess one day when I retire and I reflect on my career, it's a moment that I can kind of remember and cherish that. I always looked up to Adam Gilchrist; Uncle Ian [Healy] first, but then Adam Gilchrist, so to knock him off the pedestal - sorry about that - but I'm sure he'll appreciate it."
That Australia became the first team in a women's ODI World Cup final to breach the 300-run mark was down to the 160-run stand with left-handed partner Rachael Haynes, the highest for any wicket in a 50-over women's World Cup final. Of that tally, 86 runs came off Healy's bat, off just 83 balls.
"It's a lot of fun," Haynes, the vice-captain, said after putting on a second straight 100-plus stand with Healy in the tournament. "It [Healy's effort] is not lost on me. Her style of play really takes the pressure off me and allows me just to play my game and bat deep into the innings. She was phenomenal today. That was one of the best innings I've ever seen and pretty special that she saved it for such a big occasion."
After Australia finished the job in the 44th over of England's chase, Healy admitted the sheer length of her innings of over three hours, and the power she packed into it, took a lot out of her. "I don't know if you could tell; I haven't batted that long ever," she said at the presentation to Lisa Sthalekar, who later patted Healy's cheek after putting the winners' medal around her neck at the presentation ceremony.
Her captain Lanning, under whom she, and Australia, now have three T20 and one 50-over world titles, was understandably effusive in her praise of Healy.
"I was, like, 'Can you get out already? I want to get out there [and bat]," Lanning joked. "No, I was thoroughly enjoying it from the sidelines. I think it's easy to sort of remember the back end but I think one of the most important parts of Midge's [Healy's] innings was actually the start and how patient and well-drilled she was to get herself into that position.
"And that's something we've spoken about a lot as a batting group, is being patient early and setting the platform to allow us to go big at the back end. And that was what Alyssa did today amazingly well and gave herself the opportunity to have some fun at the back end. We were absolutely loving it on the sidelines. It was an incredible knock and something super special."
Lanning, who made her 100th ODI appearance on the day, also made it clear she wasn't entirely "surprised" at Healy delivering in the final because "she's done it before [at the 2020 T20 World Cup final at the MCG] and she's just able to come out and play so well". She added, "some of those shots she was playing were ridiculous".
A bouquet of those came in the latter part of Healy's stay in the middle, after she had been dropped by Nat Sciver in the 21st over when she was on 41, three balls after Danni Wyatt had reprieved Haynes, then on 46. Healy plundered runs in the reverse 'V', eight off which came in two fours, both through the scoop shot.
"That was pretty cool," Healy said of the scoop, a stroke she worked on following the 2020 T20 World Cup in trying to evolve into a 360-degree batter. "It's something that I've really tried to bring into my game a little bit more over the last couple of seasons.
"They [the bowlers] are getting really skillful, and being able to shut down parts of the ground. So, as a batter, you've really got to keep evolving your game and continue to open up all areas of the ground, otherwise you get stuck a little bit, so it was pleasing to see them come off today."
Her trademark inside-out lofted cover drive was on display all along, and Healy used the sweep, too, to good effect. It allowed her to access the often-unpatrolled parts of the ground.
"The sweep shot for me is something that I've probably brought in later on in my career and it really opened a few doors for me in this World Cup," Healy said. "It's a big value of our side to keep evolving and it's one that I really enjoy. I mean, you get bored every day turning up in the nets and hitting half-volleys, so to be able to practise some, some new and inventive things, is a really good thing. So it was good fun."
The ruthlessness Healy subjected the England attack, including world No. 1 white-ball bowler Sophie Ecclestone, to was perhaps best summarised by opposition captain Heather Knight.
"She obviously moved around a lot, hit the ball off the stumps quite a lot, and with only four out at the back end on a very good wicket with a quick outfield, it was really tricky actually," Knight said. "The bowlers tried their best, but the pressure that she built against us, it was just a top knock, wasn't it?
"It was very tricky because she hit all over the ground. It was hard to shut her down and shut down one side of the ground."
Perhaps nothing but "brave" can actually describe a player who has reinvented her game to a point that owning a World Cup final has become something of a habit now. And, to borrow from Lanning, it is "ridiculous" that Healy's maiden international century and her biggest innings would bookend two high points in Australia's redemption act since the 2017 World Cup semi-final exit: the 2018 tour of India that set them on a world-record winning streak and the 2022 ODI World Cup title win.

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