Fifteen years since she visited India and witnessed the inaugural IPL game live, Alyssa Healy is back, experiencing and excelling in the first-ever Women’s Premier League. She speaks to Karunya Keshav on the fine art of T20, playing the Australian way, and her larger responsibility towards the global game.

Alyssa Healy would have you know, she’s not always the villain. And maybe during the Women’s Premier League, Indian fans will see that.

“I tried to verbalise this early on when I had to stand up in front of the group and say hi to everyone, that I was their new captain,” says the Australia wicketkeeper-batter, who is leading UP Warriorz in the inaugural WPL. “All they’ve ever seen of me is playing against India and being a villain, doing my best to beat India in these big moments.”

And yes, she’s competitive, but, she insists, she’s mainly here to help.

“Not that my help is always needed or wanted! But to have the ability to sit in a group of young, talented Indian players, to help them find their feet, be it in this tournament or international cricket, if I can help, I’d be more than happy to do that.

“That’s how I think about the game and that’s why I’m sitting here, wearing my UP Warriorz shirt.”

Fifteen years ago, Healy was a young under-19 cricketer on a tour of India when she got to sit in the Chinnaswamy stands and watch Brendon McCullum bring the tournament to life. “I remember thinking this is such an amazing thing for men’s cricket.” After years of waiting, now that the women’s T20 extravaganza has started, Healy is delighted that she not only gets to experience it in the middle herself, but also move the needle forward.

At the time of writing, Healy has made her second fifty in a row in the competition. The night before our chat, she was one hit away from being the first WPL centurion. She’s happy to get the runs and play the attractive, aggressive brand of cricket that she loves. It’s what she gets the big bucks for, after all.

But she’s committed to a larger responsibility: First to the youngsters in her team, and by extension, to the women’s game in India and the rest of the world.

“One of my main goals coming into the WPL was showcasing this amazing Indian talent that we’ve got. It’s an Indian league, and for us as international players coming in, it’s our job to complement what these Indian players in these sides are and their roles. It’s not our job to make all the runs and take all the wickets. It’s how can I give them confidence in their own ability to go out there and do that themselves and showcase the skills they’ve got and become the biggest stars in India.”

Take UP opener Shwetha Sherawat for instance. Healy watched her make a heap of runs at the World Cup. In the first two matches of the WPL, Sherawat opened the batting with her skipper. The Healy and Jon Lewis captain-coach combine, though, quickly found that they needed to nurture her confidence. As Lewis told presspersons, they wanted to “take her out of the firing line”.

“For her, it’s a brand new experience of playing in front of 20,000 on that first night. It’s very loud. She’s playing against international cricketers who have got 100 international wickets. It’s a new experience and it’s highly daunting,” Healy explains her duty of care to the youngster. “For me, it’s about giving her the confidence in her own ability to go out there and do that. That might just include watching what I or Tahlia (McGrath) or Grace (Harris) or Devika (Vaidya) do. That’s only going to improve her as a cricketer.”

The idea of growing the global game is a goal Healy shares with her Australian colleagues. When a team wins as often as the Australians, it’s easy to wonder what the motivations of the individuals and the team are, which allows them to continue to perform at the highest standards day after day. Expanding the ambition of their influence, it would appear, will be one of the driving themes for the side going into next year’s World Cup.

Healy explains that the youngsters in the Australian side have led this stated goal. “It’s a big part of the culture and values within our side. I’m really proud of it,” she explains.

“We go to Bangladesh twice next year, to play a bilateral series for the first time and then the World Cup. The opportunity to go and play cricket somewhere where we’ve never been before and showcase our game to new fans is something that our team have taken on board. These tournaments and opportunities are part of that, going in to share the knowledge and love for the game and grow it for everybody, not just us as individuals but everybody.”

But why is it on the women to do the job of administrators worldwide? “It’s something empowered women think about!” she laughs. “They think about the global game as a whole, they’re not just thinking about how they can benefit.”

With her penchant for big knocks under pressure – think the incredible hundreds in the semi-final and final of the 2022 ODI World Cup, and the 39-ball 75 that broke India’s spirit in the 2020 T20 World Cup final – Healy epitomises the Australian way of playing. But she takes nothing for granted.

“People forget that T20 is one of the most fickle sports in the world, besides golf. It’s the hardest sport to be consistent at. Some days they come off and some days they don’t,” she says. “For me, if I give myself time at the start of the innings, get the pace of the wicket, get a feel for the bowling, get myself into the innings, it frees me up to find the boundary more.

“That’s the fine art of T20 cricket – it’s giving yourself time, but you don’t have a lot of time to give yourself. So if you can find your groove within 10 balls, hopefully you can capitalise.”

So far at the WPL, Healy’s feats have done their bit in bringing fans to the fold of the UP Warriorz – a team that, unlike some others, didn’t have an existing IPL fanbase to rally.

“The WPL has been everything I thought it would be,” she says. “It’s been exciting, it’s high scoring. You’ve seen the big players stand out and that’s what the IPL has been doing for a long time.

“More importantly, the crowds have come in. The DY Patil is a huge stadium, but to see that whole bottom tier and most of the top tier full of people, that’s been exciting.”

The Australian knows that she may never get the adulation and roars that greet a Smriti Mandhana in India. (“The roar she gets compared to me gives me some extra motivation to go out there and do something special!) But for now, she’s soaking it all in, and nudging her team to do so too.