The pressure of opening the batting in a team stacked with top-order players is pushing Alyssa Healy to new heights, Australia head coach Matthew Mott believes.
The wicketkeeper-batter was named player of the recent T20I series against New Zealand thanks to back-to-back half centuries that complimented her usual masterful work behind the stumps.
No Southern Stars batter has scored more runs than Healy across the past 12 months, a marked change for the 28-year-old who averaged 15.96 and 17.63 in ODIs and T20Is respectively this time last year.
She’s scored 649 across the three formats in that time, the next closest being Ellyse Perry with 528 (thanks largely to her Ashes Test double century) and Beth Mooney (465).
Healy's 57 and 67 against the White Ferns were her first T20I half-centuries since 2012, continuing a run of form that began when she was handed opening responsibilities in both limited-overs formats for last summer's Ashes and which continued in the subsequent tour of India, where she produced her maiden one-day ton.
Australia boasted eight players who open for their respective Big Bash teams in their XI against New Zealand, a situation that’s saw the world's top-ranked one-day batter Ellyse Perry remarkably listed at No.7 throughout the series.
"We’ve got eight people who are options up there (as opener), so I think the added pressure of knowing there are a number people who can do the job has probably brought out the best in her," Mott told cricket.com.au of Healy.
"I can’t fault the ways she’s taken it on, she’s playing really good cricket shots and her aggression is putting bowlers under pressure from ball one."
The turnaround started for Healy in New Zealand in March last year, when she struck 36 under pressure at No.6 to help Australia claim a must-win ODI in Mount Maunganui. It was her first 30-plus score in international cricket late 2012, and she then followed it with a career-high 63no against Pakistan during the World Cup in England in July, this time at No.7, as the Southern Stars pursued quick runs late in their innings.
Australia’s lacklustre campaign at that tournament, which culminated in a shock semi-final defeat to India, prompted a rethink from the Australian brains trust and resulted in Healy – who has batted everywhere from opener to No.9 in her nine-year international career – being installed at the top of the order in both white-ball formats.
And there she's stayed, scoring 335 runs at 55.83 in one-dayers and 269 at 24.45 in T20Is in the 12 months that have followed, thriving on the chance to take on the new ball when there are just two fielders out of the inner circle.
"She’s been impressive for probably the last 18 months," Mott said. "She had a bit of a turnaround in New Zealand and by her own account she needed to lift her intensity a bit.
"The continuity of knowing where she bats all the time has been really good for her and has freed her up.
"She’s really comfortable in that role. You see her playing like this and you ask, 'Why we didn’t do it a bit earlier', but she's (repaid) that the trust we’ve got in her and we’ve had to make some tough selections in around that."
The 3-0 win over New Zealand was less profitable for Healy’s opening partner Mooney, who posted scores of 6 and 0 before grinding out a 28-ball 29 in the Canberra finale.
It was an uncharacteristically lean series from the reigning ICC T20 Player of the Year, but Mott is backing the Queenslander to bounce back in the upcoming matches against Pakistan in Malaysia later this month, which precede November’s World T20 in the Caribbean.
"She’s a world-class player,” Mott said. "Form comes and goes at times, but we’re really confident that this opening combination is our best at the moment.
"That’s what partnerships are about, sometimes one’s hitting the ball sweeter than the other and helping each other through is really important.
"(The third innings) was exactly what Beth needed, she won’t enjoy the fact she didn’t smash the ball but sometimes those little 30 not outs are the ones that really set you up.
"She’ll be better for the run. She grounded that out, it wasn’t her typical T20 innings but chasing small totals sometimes you need players to put their ego aside and get you over the line and that’s what she did really well."
The Australian squad will travel to Malaysia early next week, where they’ll play three ODIs and three T20Is before travelling directly to the Caribbean for November’s World T20.
CommBank Tour of Malaysia
Australia ODI squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham
Australia T20 & World T20 squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Jess Jonassen (subject to fitness), Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham
Pakistan ODI/T20 squad: Javeria Khan (c), Bibi Nahida, Ayesha Zafar, Muneeba Ali Siddiqui, Sidra Amin, Omaima Sohail, Nida Rashid, Sidra Nawaz, Sana Mir, Nashra Sundhu, Anum Amin, Natalia Parvaiz, Aliya Riaz, Diana Baig, Aiman Anwar
October 18: First ODI v Pakistan, Kinrara Academy Oval, Kuala Lumpur
October 20: Second ODI v Pakistan, Kinrara Academy Oval
October 22: Third ODI v Pakistan, Kinrara Academy Oval
October 25: First T20I v Pakistan, Kinrara Academy Oval
October 27: Second T20I v Pakistan, Kinrara Academy Oval
October 29: Third T20I v Pakistan, Kinrara Academy Oval
2018 ICC Women's World T20
November 9: Australia v Pakistan, Province Stadium, Guyana
November 11: Australia v Ireland, Province Stadium
November 13: Australia v New Zealand, Province Stadium
November 17: Australia v India, Province Stadium
November 22: Semi-finals, Sir Vivian Richards Ground, Antigua
November 24: Final, Sir Vivian Richards Ground