Sunday , January 17 2021
Home / Sport / Howzat? Cricket’s golden couple open up about life, love and iso living

Howzat? Cricket’s golden couple open up about life, love and iso living

Inside the spacious North Curl Curl home of Alyssa Healy and Mitch Starc, on the northern beaches of Sydney, there’s a specific nook the owners want me to see. While two pet staffies slumber and snore at their feet, the star Australian cricketers gesture to their wall of honour. They’re not trying to point out their achievements, mind you; all the caps and bats and medals and glittering golden stumps they’ve accumulated in a decade of excellence on the international stage. Not at all.

The prized prize here, it turns out, is a gilded pitcher, with handle and spout. It looks a little like the America’s Cup trophy, only mounted on a mahogany block. A few tiny inscription plates are fixed to the base, with one bigger plate for the name of the perennial award. “This … is the Stealy Cup,” says Healy, grinning while holding it aloft. “This is the cup we play for every year in golf.”

“We play a fair bit of golf, and we take it relatively seriously,” adds Starc, shaking his head, seeming a touch embarrassed. “We were having a few beers after a round at Long Reef Golf Club one day, and figured we needed a points system.”

Fastidious records have been maintained ever since. They compete with one another in private matchplay events, or for Stableford points, and wins in Australia are worth less than wins overseas. They’ve tallied and battled for almost four years now: Healy won the first two, Starc the next one. And this year? “I’m proud to report,” says Healy, smiling up at Starc, “that the Healy part of the Stealy Cup is firmly ahead.”

“Look, it’s been quite close,” a clearly threatened Starc clarifies. “She’s only pulled ahead in the last couple of weeks.” He pauses and laughs. “As you can see, we’re not competitive at all.”

The couple are very competitive – and not just with cricket. The annual Stealy Cup is a golfing award they devised themselves in which the duo compete against each other.

The couple are very competitive – and not just with cricket. The annual Stealy Cup is a golfing award they devised themselves in which the duo compete against each other. Credit:Damian Bennett

Of course, they are, and in every way. Healy and Starc – both 30 – are the golden couple of Australian cricket, key members of two national teams that each have a strong claim to the number-one mantle within their sport. They are also, in their own way, designated wrecking balls within those teams.

Starc, with his express left-arm yorkers, is on his day the best white ball bowler in the world. In 2015 he was the player of the tournament in Australia’s famous home World Cup victory, the same year in which he delivered the fastest ball ever bowled in Test cricket, hurling it at an astonishing 160.4 kilometres per hour. Facing him at full steam is one of the most daunting prospects in cricket.

Meanwhile, wicketkeeper Healy, with almost trademarked aggression at the crease, is close to the most devastating white ball batter in the world. It was only a few months ago, in the Twenty20 World Cup win over India, in front of more than 86,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, that Healy clobbered 75 runs off just 39 balls: including the fastest 50 in a T20 international final by a woman or man.

In the weeks since that momentous and heady occasion, the couple was given a rare professional pause: the coronavirus pandemic grinding cricket to a halt, in essence reuniting them after twin touring schedules had kept them mostly apart for the past year.

In this impromptu extended break, they’ve been walking those staffies, Misty and Millie, contesting the Stealy Cup, and training in a home gym, built together without so much as a squabble, as one of a handful of iso DIY home improvements (along with some heavy landscaping and box hedging).

Alyssa Healy sums up their transient, disjointed life: “In any given year, we spend about three months together, total,” she says flatly.

“We recognise that others are doing it tough,” says Starc. “It sounds bad or selfish, but this time has been nice, seeing one another – at least more than in the last little while.”

“It’s been nice physically, too,” adds Healy. “Going for a run with Mitch makes me feel inadequate – he’s six foot five, and I’m five foot five, so I take two steps for his one – but it keeps me motivated. We had an extended break from the game like this two years ago, and I had the best 12 months of my career straight afterward, so I’m looking forward to what happens when cricket returns.”

Cocooned from the wider world, they’re a cute couple evidently wrapped up in their own rhythms. They haven’t binge-watched Tiger King or The Last Dance or even the Amazon Prime Video series The Test, about the rebirth of the Australian cricket team following #sandpapergate, but have instead spent their nights at home cooking and playing games.

“We have an addiction to PlayStation,” says Healy, “so we get our solid four hours a night shooting each other playing Call of Duty.” Adds Starc: “And because we’re on tour all the time there are a lot of hotel meals, so in a time like this I like to cook a lot. A nice roast lamb with vegies, that’s my go.”

Public relationships between international-level athletes might seem natural and common – even inevitable – but that’s not the case. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are the most famous long-term example, but they weren’t married until two years after Graf retired in 1999.

Irish golfer Rory McIlroy and Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki couldn’t make their partnership work. Nor could Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia and Swiss tennis prodigy Martina Hingis. When the inimitable Tiger Woods and American skiing champion Lindsey Vonn called it quits on their three-year tryst in 2015, both pointed to their demanding sporting schedules as the major point of friction.


“It’s hard enough juggling one cricket schedule let alone two, but we’ve done it for a long time,” says Starc, nodding. “We’re used to having a relationship through a phone. It makes moments like this more special, and harder to give up. There’s no easy answer – we just find gaps where we can.”

Healy says middle-aged couples often joke that they have the perfect marriage, because they spend so much time apart. “You might feel that way if you’ve been married for 20 years and side by side the whole time, but we’ve been married for four years, and, well, we’d like to actually spend some time together.”

At one point last year Starc and Healy were on tour in the United Kingdom for four months, yet in that time they only saw one another for maybe a week. “Ten days, tops,” emphasises Starc. “And to get those days you have to use your day off, and drive from London to Leicester, say, to watch the girls play.”

Healy, the niece of former Australian Test wicketkeeper Ian Healy, sums up their transient, disjointed life: “In any given year, we spend about three months together, total,” she says flatly.

“There’s six weeks of leave we spend together, and outside of that you just snatch a week or two here or there.”

“Even a day or two here and there,” Starc adds. “Even in the Australian summer it’s sporadic. We’re never at home for more than a couple of days between games. We’re ships in the night. We probably have been for a long time.”

Indeed they have. With high-level cricket, and all the training and travel that it demands dominating their lives, even their childhoods, it’s the only way they’ve ever known, as they both explain.

“Alyssa was on my junior representative cricket side. She had this bright blonde bob, and was trying to take my wicketkeeping spot!”

Alyssa: When I was seven, a girl in primary school told me she was going to try Kanga Cricket – like Woolworths Cricket Blast – and I went along but I’m pretty sure I hated it, because Dad [Greg Healy, Ian Healy’s brother] spent the whole time running to get me out of the sandpit to go back and learn the skills. But I showed a little bit of something, because the president of the local boys’ club signed me up to play for the under-10 boys, for the Carlingford Waratahs.

I wanted to be a fast bowler, but everyone had to have a go at being wicketkeeper, and in week three it was my go. The next week I was playing in the under 11s because their keeper was missing, and there was no going back – I was stuck behind the stumps forever.

I actually met Mitch around that time, when I was nine. We played against one another in club cricket, and with one another in representative cricket. From under 10s to under 16s we played together. And we shared the wicketkeeping for the first three years, before Mitch started bowling more.

Mitch: Mum’s got photos of me with a bat and ball when I was two, and I grew up with the game. All games, really. I had a brother and two sisters and we tried everything in sport, but cricket always got me through the summer. I lived in a cul-de-sac, and went to primary school with a few kids in the street, so we used to play there with the milk crates as stumps.

But I think I started playing properly around under 10s. Alyssa was on my junior representative cricket side. Our home ground was Cheltenham Oval [on Sydney’s upper north shore]. My dad coached our team a bit, and so did Alyssa’s dad, Greg, and I just remember she had this bright blonde bob, and was trying to take my wicketkeeping spot!

Alyssa (at right) with her father, Greg Healy, and late sister Kareen. Alyssa was 12 when Kareen died at age 15, following an anaphylactic reaction that caused her to go into cardiac arrest.

Alyssa (at right) with her father, Greg Healy, and late sister Kareen. Alyssa was 12 when Kareen died at age 15, following an anaphylactic reaction that caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Credit:

Alyssa: I leapt right into the game. In my first game of under 11s, one of the quicker bowlers was coming in, and a short ball hit me straight in the head. The coach was shitting himself –“Oh god, you’ve hit the girl!” – but I just jumped back up, with a seam mark down my head.

Mitch: Alyssa developed the technical side of her game more quickly than the boys. Young women listen more carefully, don’t they? There was no fear in her, either. Later on in our teens, I remember there was this one kid at Parramatta that everyone had heard about – he was bigger and faster than everybody – and we were all shitting ourselves. So Alyssa put the pads and helmet on and went in first, scored a few runs. We all tried to copy her.

Alyssa: When I walked out to bat I always felt like I was treated a little differently. Either I was sledged a little bit more, or a lot less. It made me more resilient, and made me enjoy my cricket more as well.

Mitch: I actually wasn’t a fast bowler for a long time in juniors. I really did want to be a keeper and a slogger with the bat. But then as I got taller, I was told to go and bowl with the quicks. As part of one squad when I was about 15, I spent a whole winter in an indoor cricket centre. I was given a bucket of balls, and was sent to the far net to bowl off one step, again and again and again. That was the whole session. That’s how I developed my bowling action.

Alyssa: We used to joke in my house that every time Mum and Dad went away, something weird would happen. And that was the case when I was 16. My grandma was looking after me, and at six o’clock one morning there was a knock at the front door, and I answered in my pyjamas, as you do, thinking it’s a neighbour. But it’s television reporter Denham Hitchcock, holding a newspaper in my face and asking: “Do you want to comment on this?”

It took me a while to figure it out, but there was a photo of me in my school uniform with some cricket mates, and I had to take two, and read it. An old boy from Barker College [a co-educational private high school in Hornsby] had written an email to the school to “Save Barker Cricket Now”, because there was a girl playing for the school – me! – and it was a travesty and shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Fortunately the school did an amazing job of sheltering me, and the boys all supported me. I got picked in the ones and we won the trophy that year, so the old boy can stick it. Have a bit of that, mate!

I credit my development to this day to playing in that team. I’d been playing with the boys all along, but come 17 and 18 they were a lot bigger and stronger, while I was a little girl who had hardly grown. It forced me to learn new shots and defensive strokes. I owe my cover drive to that experience. It made me so much better.

Mitch: I’ve had quite a few injuries, and my late teens were no exception, but in my youth I didn’t deal with them as well. Once I tore a muscle in my side, came back from that, and then tore the other side.

Alyssa: I remember that. I came back to Cricket NSW one night, and Mitch was sitting by himself in the dark, with an ice pack on his gut. I’ve never seen a more broken human being in my life. He was 19, thought the world was at his feet, and he was injured again. He was shattered for a long time. I sat there with him and told him, “It’ll be okay, you’ll be back.” It was tough but I think that helped him later, because he’s always known he could come back.

Mitch: I did used to dwell on injuries; thinking about all the cricket I would miss. I dug this big hole each time and had a hard time getting out. I’m better now at looking at what I’ll have when I get back.

But it was great having Alyssa around to get through that one. Rehab can be a lonely place, but whenever I’ve been injured I’ve always had Alyssa to lean on, and her games to watch, which gives you something else to focus on. That’s happened throughout my career actually, I’ve seen a lot of her cricket, thanks to my injuries!

“It was no real romantic story. I lost my licence when I was 19 and Mitch drove me around for the three months.”

“It was no real romantic story. I lost my licence when I was 19 and Mitch drove me around for the three months.”Credit:Damian Bennett

Alyssa: We used to bump into each other quite a bit before we turned 20. We would catch up, talk on the phone. But we probably got together around 18, after meeting up in Brisbane one winter. I was up there playing hockey for NSW, and Mitch was training with the National Performance Squad. We had a horrific tournament, went out for some drinks, so did some of the cricket boys and we hung out. And then we were home and all of a sudden we were hanging out more. It was no real romantic story. I lost my licence when I was 19, on my green Ps – speeding, running late from cricket to hockey – and Mitch drove me around for the three months.

Mitch: I think when I was about 20 – in the week before I went away on my first Australian tour – I realised I had been seeing Alyssa almost every day for a long, long while. It felt a bit weird asking but it was like, “Are we dating now?” It just happened.

Alyssa: Mitch did well early in his career, but I was in and out of the Australian cricket side a lot, because Jodie Fields was the wicketkeeper and captain. Mitch was only really out with injuries; getting on the park for a small run and then getting injured again. He had a rougher trot than I did.

I was also a reluctant athlete. I didn’t knuckle down at my cricket that much until later in my career. It’s really only been the last few years that I’ve pulled the finger out.

“Mitch doesn’t leave anything out there, and I’m the same. You’d be surprised by how low-key and quiet we are, and how shy Mitch is.”

Mitch: Alyssa has always kept her struggles under wraps. Whether she’s having a tough time or not, she’s this upbeat tone setter for the team, always trying to blast them off to a good start, always chirpy behind the stumps. Whether she misses out on selection or not, she’s the barometer of the team’s energy. She doesn’t let disappointment show.

I know there have been times when she’s out of form. Even in the couple of weeks before the Twenty20 World Cup this year, there was all this talk that she was out of nick. Once upon a time she might have taken that to heart, and been hard on herself, but this time? I’ve never seen someone so relaxed.

Alyssa: I love the team environment. I love that I could get out for a first-ball duck but Moons [teammate Beth Mooney] could make a hundred at the other end, and the team still wins. Knowing you can be there to help your mates, and they can be there for you. But individually, as a batter, I don’t think there’s a better feeling than smacking a fast bowler back down the ground. You can pull and hook all day, but a straight drive for four, past them, back where it came from? Nothing beats that.

Mitch: I love Test cricket; it’s the pinnacle for me. But early on something I was given the responsibility to do, which I loved, was to bowl the death in white ball cricket [to bowl the final overs of a game while defending a lead]. There are times I’ve gone for heaps of runs in the last over and lost, and others where I’ve won the game. The ups and downs and the challenge of that really appeal to me. You’re not going to win them all, but I’ve tried to take ownership of that moment.

Alyssa: Attacking is probably the best way to describe our games, and that comes with a high-risk element. Mitch doesn’t leave anything out there, and I’m the same. I’m not sure if it says a lot about our personalities, because off the field you’d be surprised by how low-key and quiet we are, and how shy Mitch is.

Mitchell Starc’s thunderbolts have hustled out many a batsman.

Mitchell Starc’s thunderbolts have hustled out many a batsman.Credit:Getty Images

Mitch: It’s team-oriented, too. More often than not my role has been to take wickets, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to find a balance by not giving up runs. With Alyssa, she just wants to get the team off to a good start. She has this confidence in her cricket; it’s not carelessness, but trying to take the game on for the greater good. Maybe it stems from spending so much time with each other.

Our careers have followed a similar line. I remember being there for Alyssa’s Australian Test debut at Bankstown Oval in 2011. I remember having a beer at the end of the game, and she tried to put her baggy green cap on my head, and I wouldn’t let her. I was like, “It’s not mine, it’s special, and I’d love to get one of my own one day, but that’s yours.”

Fortunately I got my own later in the year in Brisbane, from Richie Benaud, who’s no longer with us. That was incredible, right at the top of my memories in cricket, along with the 2015 World Cup. Winning that at home, in front of 93,000 people – that’s something you never forget.

Alyssa: If you know us, you know that we enjoy a drink celebrating the big things, and that whole week Mitch had been celebrating with the boys, so he had to make it up to me. He was out every night, and I was getting the shits, because I’d won a few World Cups already and we didn’t go on like that.

Mitch: She really did get the shits. One morning she packed her gear and just left to go to the gym. I went out and picked up an engagement ring. Then we went over to Hayman Island for a week. One day I thought it would be a good time for a hike, chasing the sunset. I was clearly nervous. Alyssa wanted to sit on a flat spot, and I wanted her to come over close to the edge. I nearly fell off the face of a cliff getting down on one knee.

Alyssa: I’m pretty sure my response was “Really?” Nah, I said yes, and then we had to get off the cliff face before it got dark. We got married the same time the next year, 2016, in Clareville on Sydney’s northern beaches, and had the reception at Palm Beach. About 98 people was as small as we could make the wedding, and it’s still one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. I reckon 50 people were still partying at 3am.

The happy couple during their 2016 wedding. Healy says it’s still one of the best parties she's ever been to: "I reckon 50 people were still partying at 3am." 

The happy couple during their 2016 wedding. Healy says it’s still one of the best parties she’s ever been to: “I reckon 50 people were still partying at 3am.” Credit:

Mitch: Cricket doesn’t last forever, and we’re both past 30 now, both been playing for over 10 years. We’re not the first people in a relationship to both play professional sport, but jeez it’s hard with cricket schedules that never align.

Planning a family has never been a pushed subject for either of us, because I know that if we do want a child, that’s a period of time Alyssa is out of the game, at a time when she’s dominating.

Alyssa: No one puts pressure on anyone in this household. Except my mum, who says, “Don’t keep me waiting too long!” Whether I want kids is probably a question people ask me more than I ask myself. Even though Cricket Australia has a fantastic pregnancy policy [including players eligible for 12 months’ paid leave, costs covered for support people and guaranteed contract extensions], if I go away and have a baby, come back and begin playing again, I would want to take the baby on tour. So when would Mitch get to see the baby? The sad reality is that one of us has to retire to start a family, and the obvious choice is me, because of Mitch’s earning power.

Mitch: The last time I went and played in the Indian Premier League was in 2015 for Bangalore, and I was on $880,000 a year. I was meant to go again in 2018, to Calcutta, for $1.8 million [he was ruled out of the season due to injury]. It’s a ridiculous amount of money for six or seven weeks of cricket. It’s more than we get paid to play 11 months of the year for Australia.

Alyssa: Mitch turned down an Indian Premier League contract this year, and it was remarkable to me that he copped flak for that in some quarters. People read that [his teammate] Pat Cummins got a $3.7 million contract and asked, “Why wouldn’t you do that, too? Why would you turn that down?”

But to have that presence of mind as a modern-day athlete – when everything seems to be about money – to say, “This is the right time for me to take a step back, for my personal life, and also to let my body recover instead of staying on the road for 12 months,” it made sense.

“Rehab can be a lonely place, but whenever I’ve been injured I’ve always had Alyssa to lean on.”

“Rehab can be a lonely place, but whenever I’ve been injured I’ve always had Alyssa to lean on.”Credit:Damian Bennett

Mitch: It’s important to enjoy what you do. Cape Town [after the sandpapergate scandal] was an extremely tough time for the whole team. I don’t think any of us knew the gravity of it until the guys got home. It was surreal. It’s a time we would all like to put out of our minds, but hopefully some learnings came from it.

There are a lot more smiles in the locker room these days. It’s been a really enjoyable place to be. The biggest thing I’ve taken from when JL [coach Justin Langer] took over is that you’re not just here to win games, you’re here to be good people, too. He likes to say, “Be great Australians, be great cricketers – in that order.” We’re almost like a brotherhood, and I think at times we fell away from that.

Going back to South Africa this year was a completely different reception to what we thought we were going to get. They were so welcoming. So everything went full circle, from a really terrible time to a great tour.

We were doing a five-hour bus trip from Cape Town to Bloemfontein for the last game of the tour, at the same time as the girls were playing the Twenty20 World Cup semi-final against South Africa in Sydney. At one point on that bus ride we had six or seven phones going, with guys standing around watching the game.

I’ve seen things progress from no one in the men’s team giving women’s cricket two looks, to everyone being really supportive. When they won, I jumped in a car the next day, drove two hours to Johannesburg, flew to Sydney, dropped my bags at home, went back to the domestic terminal, and flew to Melbourne for the final. I had to be there for her.

Healy is renowned for her powerhouse batting. She says there's no better feeling than smacking a fast bowler back down the ground.

Healy is renowned for her powerhouse batting. She says there’s no better feeling than smacking a fast bowler back down the ground.Credit:Getty Images

Alyssa: I picked a good one, in that Mitch sees the value in what the girls do. He sees that the coat of arms on my hat holds as much value as the coat of arms on his hat. His game is just as important as mine. So any chance we get to see each other play, we take it. The game he missed was a dead rubber, but he would have been coming back no matter what. It’s a show of his character. He’s never looked down on the women’s game. He supports it so much, behind the scenes.

Mitch: Women are getting paid a lot better now than they have in the past, and they’ve just shown that if you put more time and money into a product, then that product is going to improve, and it’s blown itself out of the water in the last couple of years. Paying them enough so they can focus on their sport is so crucial.

Alyssa: Have you got an hour to talk about the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup final? I wish I had retired then and there, because nothing is ever going to top that moment. Everything just aligned perfectly for us.

Even the fact that the game got to be played – it was only two days before the coronavirus lockdown. It felt like nothing went right for us that whole World Cup until the very end, when we created our own luck in this epic clash: Australia versus India.

I’ve played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of 50 people, and you can hear yourself when you clap – it echoes around the stadium. So more than 86,000 people revelling in that spectacle, then winning, and dancing with Katy Perry? In a sport like cricket, I never thought we would get that kind of moment. It felt like a launchpad for women’s sport all around the country.


Mitch: The girls can be really proud – they had the world captivated. We had a great time celebrating that one. In fact, going back to cricket this year could be hard, after having that high and then this period of normalcy, or at least routine.

Alyssa: It’s funny because we’re both highly independent people. We thought that spending more time together in isolation was going to be the tricky part, but we’ve found it’s really cool, that we can actually put up with one another.

Mitch: It’s been really nice to go for a swim together, or wake up in the same bed for weeks in a row. I know it’s a tough time around the world, but for us it’s been a nice little change.

Alyssa: I don’t think we can take this for granted.

Mitch: I don’t think we will.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

About admin

Check Also

Stars claim Melbourne derby in final over

Even after the loss of their captain, the Stars were still on track at 3-111 …