One year in, Alyssa Healy is primed to lead a new Aussie era

Skipper finds her groove as Aussies reset at their base camp ahead of a massive 18-month period

As Australia's men fired the first arrows of their T20 World Cup campaign in Trinidad in the opening days of June, their female counterparts were more inconspicuously carrying out some important business of their own.

On a (sub)tropical island much closer to home, all 17 of Australia's female contracted players, plus coaching and support staff, made the most of a valuable gap in the calendar to come together. Broadly, the two key items on the agenda were Australia's title defence at the next two World Cups: the T20I tournament in Bangladesh in October; and the ODI event in India 12 months later.

At a more micro level, conversations were to revolve around team values and culture, evolution, connection, and collective direction.

"It's been seven years since we sat down as a group after 2017 (ODI World Cup semi-final exit) and reinvented ourselves," captain Alyssa Healy told "Now is a perfect time to do that again, knowing the next 18 months is huge."

At midday on June 5, the group assembled at Holt Street Wharf in Pinkenba, and boarded a ferry to nearby Moreton Island, home of Tangalooma Island Resort, where they were stationed for three days.

Scheduling-wise, the timing was convenient, but in the bigger picture, it was also notable.

Twelve months earlier, Healy had been informed she was to lead Australia through their forthcoming Ashes tour, owing to the very late, health-related withdrawal of Meg Lanning.

From Healy's perspective, it was a hurried promotion into a hot seat she had no particular ambition to occupy.

"When you get told a week out from the Ashes that you're going to have to go over and skipper an Australian team," she says, "when I feel like I was only vice-captain for about six months and I had no idea what was going on, that was quite a surreal experience."

Much of the time between then and now has passed in a kind of limbo for the national side. The Ashes was an absorbing series but played in the part-shadow of a giant question mark hanging over Lanning's future. Even when the batting great announced her retirement in November, the months that followed were tinged by the gravity of her exit, completing as it did a trifecta of recent leadership departures (alongside former head coach Matthew Mott and vice-captain Rachael Haynes) since the 2022 ODI World Cup.

Healy's side then won series they were expected to win, at home to West Indies and South Africa. They lost a Test in India but won both white-ball legs of that tour, then soundly accounted for Bangladesh away in March-April.

Along the way, there were hiccups and highlights and heroics aplenty. But without a World Cup through that window – the barometer by which this legendary Australian group has typically been measured – it all felt a bit like treading water, as if this team, and its new leadership group, was waiting for a chance to pause for breath, take stock and begin anew.

Which brings us back to Moreton Island, in the first week of a Queensland winter. To blue skies, cold water, and the opening words of a fresh chapter.

In the coming 18 months, Australia will be defending their titles at the T20I and ODI World Cups. All things being equal, Healy will lead them into both. While the Lanning legend still looms large, the time has now arrived for the new captain to begin carving out her legacy as the leader of an evolving group.

"It'd be silly to sit here and say, 'It's not a new era', because I think it is," the 34-year-old says. "I mean, we've lost 700 international games of experience over the last 18 months (including Mott as head coach).

"We've got new leadership, new coaches, and new support staff that are challenging us in different ways than what we've been challenged in the past.

"This is a great opportunity to sit down as a group and work out who we are, what's our identity moving forward, and who we want to be."

* * *

Somewhere between the kayaking and the swimming and the stand-up paddleboarding, Australia's elite female cricketers sat together on Moreton Island and did exactly that. Their lengthy, players-only discussion was, according to Beth Mooney, "a deep dive into where the team's at, what the next 18 months looks like, any (team) values we think might need changing or evolving, what's important to the group right now, and standards we want to set".

Healy had recognised the gradually changing face of this group. Haynes and Lanning have made way, while these next two World Cups will put the skipper in the vicinity of her 36th birthday. Her List A debut – which she shared with Ellyse Perry – came more than 17 years ago. The pair has been playing elite cricket since before Phoebe Litchfield began kindergarten.

"You look at the makeup of our squad," Healy said a week before the camp, "and I'm not speaking on behalf of anybody, but you could have potentially quite a few senior players leaving the game at any point over the next few years.

"When I first came into the Australian team, things that were standard or really important just aren't as important anymore to the next generation of players, which has been quite fascinating to see.

"I can't wait to hear some of the thoughts from the younger players in the squad … I keep reminding them that this is their team for the next 10 to 15 years if they want it. And they need to play a part now to make sure that it's sustainable moving forward."

For leaders Healy and head coach Shelley Nitschke, as much as Moreton Island represented Ground Zero for a new era, the nucleus of the next great Australian team is already in this Australian team. It makes it all the more important that there is alignment on aspirations and direction. Which, among a fiercely ambitious group, can be a tricky dynamic to get right.

"I mean, you look at somebody like an Annabel Sutherland, who is dominating batting at eight," Healy points out. "She could bowl four overs for you in a T20 game, 10 overs in a one-day game, but at the moment is probably playing a backseat role to some of the other players that have been doing it for a long time.

"So it's like, 'OK, hold your horses just a little bit – we know you're going to be a world beater for the next 15 years, but we've got some people that are doing that role at the moment'. But it's also encouraging them to go out there and keep showing what they can do and keep banging down the door.

"I mean, for our senior players, we're not going to be there forever. And we know that (the younger players are) ready to go, but it's just trying to hold onto them a little bit more before we let them completely loose on the world."

In this sense, Healy sees a crowded international schedule as her friend, allowing opportunities for her star youngsters that once might not have existed. Just in the past 12 months for example, we've seen Sutherland score a century opening in an ODI against Ireland, and leg-spinner Georgia Wareham make a fifty from No.3 in a T20I against Bangladesh. They're moments that – at least temporarily – sate ferocious appetites.

"And for me," Nitschke adds, "that's about having those discussions with the captain where we're making sure we are keeping one eye on the future.

"It's about looking for opportunities wherever they might come up – and they don't always come up – but if there is an opportunity, we need to take it, to safeguard us for the future."

Running parallel with these individual ambitions is the lofty expectations put on this team. Nine world titles inside 20 years will do that; in that sense, there's no doubt this group is a victim of its own success, and that of its predecessors.

"I mean, we're expected to win World Cups, which isn't necessarily fair, but at the same time, we're disappointed if we don't," Healy says.

"But how do you do it when you've had a fair bit of turnover?

"That's the challenge for us over the next 18 months, to go, 'OK, well, how do we stay at the top knowing that we've had a lot of change – and there's probably going to be more change coming, let's be honest – so how do we maintain our standards, or recreate our standards, and push the bar even further out?'"

Healy's opening partner Mooney, a veteran of the set-up these days, was reluctant to divulge state secrets around the Moreton Island camp but she is singing from a similar hymn sheet as her skipper when it comes to generation next.

"(On) the new era thing, we're getting some of those young players into roles that they perhaps haven't done a lot before," Mooney says. "It's been nice to hear from those guys about what they want to see moving forward, and what they see as important in the next 18 months as well.

"Speaking from experience, as a young player, when you walk into an Australian team that's got some legends of the game in it, it can be quite intimidating to feel like you've got a voice. So we've always spoken about trying to create an environment where people feel heard and can contribute to the direction that the team's going.

"That's really important for us at the moment … once us older players have moved on, these younger players can then drive that to the next group of players."

* * *

On the first evening at Moreton Island, the group came together to watch a collection of player interviews and highlights that had been produced by the team's videographer. The interview snippets were from one-on-one conversations the players (and staff) had with team psychologist Pete Clark in Bangladesh a couple of months earlier.

It meant each of them were sharing personal views and details that were then broadcast in the group setting.

"We got to watch that," Mooney says, "and get some insights into what individuals thought team culture looks like, what makes a good team, what got people into the game, and what challenges they might have faced.

"You might have learned something about a teammate or a staff member that you didn't know, so (it was about) starting that piece around connecting away from cricket, and just creating conversations."

It was a pertinent point to be addressed. Healy has already shown herself to be strong on that theme of 'connecting away from cricket', a fact that was pointed out to in April by Jess Jonassen, who admitted to feeling isolated at times during long stretches on the road.

"Something that 'Midge' (Healy) has brought in (as captain), is that element of being better connected as a group, and that element of genuine connection," Jonassen said.

"But it's hard, because I only sort of show fractions of myself in this environment, because I guess it's easier. I'm not necessarily the most outgoing person. I keep to myself a fair bit. (And) for a lot of us older players, there's been so much change."

The emphasis on connection is perhaps Healy's proactive approach to mitigating this situation in the future. Since taking on the captaincy, player management has been one of her steepest learning curves (more on that later), though in the Australian set-up that role is not hers alone.

Part of the allure of installing Tahlia McGrath as vice-captain came down to the fact that, Healy says, "we have different reaches within the group", while her composure amid a crisis can sometimes present as a nice counterpoint to her captain.

McGrath, naturally, is close with her fellow South Australians in Megan Schutt (who is an influential voice in the group in her own right) and Darcie Brown, but has become an increasingly strong figure in the set-up in the past three years.

"It does help that we're very different personalities, and I think she brings an element of calmness to me in particular," Healy adds. "I mean, everyone knows how fired up I can get, and how competitive I can get, but to have somebody like her just thinking away in the background, and just having those chats around the field with players and keeping things as calm and controlled as possible has been a real blessing for me."

Healy and her deputy McGrath have quickly established their dynamic as a leadership duo // Getty

Nitschke, who goes a generation further back than Healy, points out that a key factor in player management nowadays is the creation of the right environment.

The 47-year-old, who took the reins from Mott in 2022, has seen the women's game evolve markedly in her time as player and coach. Most notably for her that has centred upon the need to understand the full-time nature of professional sport, which has in turn meant a degree of flexibility and latitude during lengthy periods on the road. By that, Nitschke doesn't mean the squad environment is any more or less relaxed than it has been in the past. More to the point, it is carefully selecting the moments for the group to switch on. And given their status as professionals and their familiarity with such a life, it is a modus operandi the players respond to.

"We're away so much," Nitschke says, "sometimes you've got to let things go a little bit, because people can't be like that (in work mode) all the time."

The nature of this carefully constructed environment is evidently having the desired effect. The on-field impacts of Litchfield (21), Sutherland (22) and Brown (21) have been obvious, while more subtly, Nitschke has observed a shift in "the day-to-day interactions and conversations" they have with their more senior teammates.

"You can see them growing and feeling more confident contributing to the group," she adds. "It's a really healthy thing."

For Healy, who is nothing but enthused by the quality of the youngsters making their way into the national set-up, there is a common trait she wants to see.

"They're all unique, very different," she says. "I want to be able to know that they're playing for the team – that's probably the biggest one for me. I look at the squad of players we've got, they all work really, really hard at themselves and at their game. That's not something that needs to be pushed within our group. Sometimes I think they do too much and need to go and play golf on a day off instead of going to the gym or thinking about cricket. So they're not short of any sort of work ethic.

"It's just more about relaxing and enjoying those big, pressure moments and making sure that the team is at the forefront of their mind, and going out there and performing is for that.

"So they've got all the skill in the world, I just think they need to sometimes relax, enjoy it and let it all unfold."

* * *

As much as this story is about these Australians as a collective – where they are going in the next 18 months, and how they would like to get there – much of it comes back to Healy.

Outsiders might assume that taking on the captaincy of a dominant, multiple World Cup winning side is simply a matter of 'steady as she goes'. Internally, they know better. Last year's drawn Ashes series, and Test defeat in India, were more evidence that the gap is closing. It is keeping this group alert, innovative, and motivated to stay ahead of the pack.

For Healy, the responsibility of leading in that context is invigorating. A year into the role, she is learning about herself and her teammates in ways she didn't realise was possible.

"I think I've grown a lot as a person outside of the game for the last 12 months and the experiences I've had," she says. "And then hopefully I can use that to continue to get better, but also keep trying to get the best out of everybody."

Pressed on all of that, she adds: "I've had to probably learn – more importantly – how to manage myself and how to manage what I need to perform. I think traditionally – and it's something I love doing – I've always been team first … but I've probably had to rethink that and go, 'Well, actually, I need to manage myself better to be able to make that happen'.

"So yes, I've got to deal with all the team stuff that's going on, but I also need to make sure that personally I'm ready to perform as well.

"That's probably been one of the biggest learning curves. Shutting myself in my room and trying to get away isn't exactly the answer to everything; I think (in the past) that's probably what happened more than not, and I ended up just getting grumpy and not getting the best out of myself.

"Also just probably understanding and learning more about people: where they're at, and managing their expectations. Everybody's ready to go, ready to perform, which is cool, but it's just making sure we're all on the same page moving forward."

In order to do that, Healy is clear in saying she had to get her own house in order first. This has been the most significant change for her. In late 2021, she told "It probably hasn't really sunk in that if Meg goes down, I have to captain, and that's a little bit scary.

"I've never really seen myself as a captain," she added. "I've seen myself as a leader, but I'm happy to lead from within the group ... creating that buzz and that morale and driving the group that way instead. (Captaincy) has never been my style, and I can't just flip that around now."

But then there was this, too: "I've really enjoyed captaining the (NSW) Breakers over the last few years, and feeling like I can have a real impact on some of these young cricketers, and help them develop into great Australian cricketers."

Maybe because she is three years older – or perhaps because she had no other choice – Healy has leaned much more into the latter than the former. Certainly in the broader context of her career, she feels the timing of her appointment was fortuitous.

"For some reason, whatever it might be, there seems to be moments throughout my career (that) give me an extra little jolt of energy," she says. "And (captaincy) is just another one of those.

"I sat there in that group with Rach and Meg and 'Moons' and 'Motty' after the New Zealand (ODI) World Cup (in 2022), and we literally said, 'What's next?'

"You felt it around that group of senior players: How do we turn up tomorrow and go again when we've worked really, really hard for four years to get this World Cup, and to change what happened after 2017? I was a part of that chat, and then you turn around and those three big figures have left the group.

"So for us, it was like, 'Right, well, we've got to motivate ourselves to go (again)'.

"I've been lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to captain, and that's reinvigorated me to learn a bit more about myself, but also about the team itself, and my teammates who are fresh into the team, and then to find a way to go out there and keep raising the bar – and keep winning."

Healy has leaned on some friends who have been in the same high place she currently occupies, and from those conversations, a universal truth has emerged that have instilled in her the belief that her way of doing things can be the right way.

"I've had a few chats with a few different people, but it seems to be like everybody's different," she says. "You can talk to Belinda Clark, you can talk to Rachel Haynes, you can run things past Meg, you can chat to all these amazing leaders … but it turns out that you're a lot different to every single one of them, and you've got to find your own way."