Alyssa Healy has the potential to become a force for Australia at the top of the order if given the time to prove herself in the position, former international Mel Jones believes.
Australia promoted the wicketkeeper-batter to the top of the order for Sunday’s first for Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes ODI at Allan Border Field, dropping Beth Mooney to make way for an extra bowling option in allrounder Tahlia McGrath.
Healy’s attacking tendencies immediately showed when the 27-year-old struck three boundaries from the opening over of Australia’s pursuit of England’s 9-228, but she added just one more boundary and two singles before being dismissed for a 15-ball 18.
Her dismissal left the Southern Stars in some early trouble at 2-20, having already lost fellow opener Nicole Bolton for two, before a fighting knock from Alex Blackwell and an exciting cameo from Ashleigh Gardner sealed a tense two-wicket win.
Healy has batted anywhere from opener to No.8 in 53 one-dayers since her debut in 2011, averaging 13.13 in her eight previous knocks at the top of the order– the most recent of which came in August 2014.
Speaking to cricket.com.au ahead of Sunday’s game, Jones said she believes Healy has what it takes to succeed as an ODI opener at international level, but needs the selection panel to give her ample opportunity to prove herself across the three 50-over matches.
"I don’t think she’s been given a big run top order doing a role like that,” Jones said. “In a series like this when they’ve lost someone like (injured captain) Meg Lanning, they need their senior players to go, ‘right, I’ll cover it’.
"They might say to Healy, ‘this is your time’. She can get going a bit more than Mooney or Nicole Bolton, who are steady early.
"But without a doubt they have to stick with her. There can’t be this chopping and changing with a position like that. They have to stick with her for the three ODIs and give her a good run."
Australia head coach Matthew Mott said he faced his “toughest call” in the week leading into the first ODI, deciding which of the top seven to leave out in order to fit in a third seam option.
Another option was to retain Mooney – who stands behind the stumps for Queensland – as opener and leave Healy out.
Healy's ODI average of 15.96 belies her ability with the bat, and she was damaging coming in late during the World Cup to put the finishing touches on an innings – never more so than when she scored 63no from 47 balls against Pakistan in Leicester.
Mooney, meanwhile, replaced Elyse Villani at the top of the order last November and built a solid opening partnership with Nicole Bolton, with the Queenslander averaging 35.37 from her 17 ODIs.
The decision was made to stick with the more experienced Healy, who was part of Australia’s successful 2015 Ashes campaign, and Jones believes Healy’s influence on the Ashes can extend beyond her efforts with bat or gloves.
"I think Healy’s got a good cricket brain and that needs to come out now in support of (stand-in captain) Rachael Haynes,” she said.
"Rachael is very clear on her game plans but Healy knows the opposition players and the team really well and her input tactically, and player-management wise, will be crucial.
"It’s a long series and in terms of aggression, it’s not just about bat and ball, it’s about being vocal as well. Australia need her up and about behind the stumps and dictating terms out there."
Australia will travel to Coffs Harbour on Monday, where they’ll attempt to continue their winning run in the second ODI on Thursday.
Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes
Australia lead England 2-0
Australia squad (ODI and Test): Rachael Haynes (C), Alex Blackwell (VC), Kristen Beams, Nicole Bolton, Lauren Cheatle, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa (Test only), Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.
England squad: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Laura Marsh, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield, Danielle Wyatt.
First ODI Australia won by two wickets
Brisbane Charity Partner: Lord Mayor's Charitable Trust
Second ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 26
Third ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 29
Day-Night Test North Sydney Oval, November 9-12
First T20 North Sydney Oval, November 17
North Sydney Charity Partner: McGrath Foundation
Second T20 Manuka Oval, November 19
Third T20 Manuka Oval, November 21
Canberra Charity Partner: Lord's Taverners ACT