Cup filled, now Alana King eyes Cup redemption

A week spent in Australia's red centre has the high-energy leg-spinner well placed mentally as she targets her next cricketing challenge

A happy mix of adventurousness and curiosity means Alana King has been an explorer of new horizons for about as long as she can remember.

From exploring the UK as a 15-year-old, and later on to Samoa, Singapore and Sano, she has traversed the globe for almost half her life now, taking cricket to places where it is both foreign and deeply familiar.

Just this month, King charted herself a fresh path. It was smack bang into the heart of Australia, the country of her birth, but where she – and the vast majority of her 26 million compatriots – had yet to set foot.

"I've never seen so much red dirt, ever," King tells "I was just amazed at how red the centre of Australia is. As naïve as that sounds, I don't think you understand it until you actually see how dry it is in Alice (Springs)."

An image from Alana King's trip to Alice Springs // Supplied

Through a week spent in one of the world's most remote communities, the woman whose parents, Leroy and Sharon, hail from Chennai – one of the world's most populous cities – was struck by other things, too.

"It was an incredible experience of going and being in community," she says. "You know, we live in the same country, but we live worlds apart. Simple things for us, like access to running water – there's a shortage of water into that community.

"Or there might be 12 people in a house and no-one has their own room – they're sleeping on the floor with their siblings or other family members.

"But getting to talk to some senior figures in the community, they want to explain their land and their culture to you, and hearing what they want for their community … just getting to know them that way and making those connections was one of the best parts for me."

King wasn't there for her own benefit but she came home enriched nonetheless, her "cup filled up" as she begins to turn her attention to the next challenge in her life.

* * *

Alana King is a woman with a plan and a purpose. Always. Having jammed more into her 28 years than most manage in a lifetime, the WA and Australia leg-spinner has regularly benefited from having one eye on the bigger picture.

Right this minute, she is relaxing at her home in Innaloo, Perth, just down the road from Scarborough Beach. But it's rare to catch her in this pose nowadays. In the past couple of years, downtime for King has become a temporary state. She's only just back from her week in Australia's red centre, and in the next fortnight, she will hop between Sydney and Brisbane and Melbourne for various commitments, some business, some pleasure. And this is her off-season.

Back in mid-2019, King was a budding 23-year-old leg-spinner who lived with her folks in Melbourne and needed to work part time to cover the bills. Yet ambition burned. Speaking with at the time, she outlined where she saw herself five years hence.

"Hopefully being a regular bowler for the Australian women's team, and being close to the number one bowler in the team – if not the world," she said. "They're big aspirations, I know, but I believe I'm capable of achieving them if I put some solid stuff in place."

King reflects on central role in Test debut epic

Reflecting today, King grins.

"Pretty wild, those aspirations," she says. "Being the number one bowler … that was a bit, ah, outstretched, I reckon (laughs)."

Those five years have come and gone, and sure, King's ambition to be the best in the world might not have quite materialised just yet. But with 55 national caps, World Cup titles in both formats, a Commonwealth Games gold medal and a highlights reel to match any spinner in the past couple of years, hers has been a rise that has, well, outstretched all expectations but her own.

Yet not everything has gone her way. Along the way, there has been selection dejection, and soul-crushing disappointment. Like any quality spinner however, King is adept at taking a hit and quickly refocusing. 

And right now, there is plenty keeping her eyes dead ahead.

* * *

A key strategy in King's plot for world domination has been recognising opportunities when they come along, and then seizing them where others might not.

Her game-changing roll of the dice came in the middle of 2020, in the middle of COVID-19, in the middle of Melbourne lockdown mayhem. King's rare talent – as a leg-spinner who can give it a rip and land them consistently – had long since been identified, but in a stacked Victorian squad, her chances at the bowling crease were limited.

Her manager had been having conversations with the WACA about another client of his. He brought King's name up. An opportunity presented itself.

"I needed to try something different," she says. "And I knew WA didn't have a spinner to take the ball away from a right-hander."

King knew how much potential the move held for her career. Yet despite her intrepid spirit, a relocation to Perth – more than 3,000km from home – amid the uncertainty of a pandemic at least gave her pause for thought.

In case you don't know me: Alana King

"It was a massive decision to make," she says. "There were conversations back and forth with the family, and my manager, and it just came down to, 'OK, if we don't take an opportunity now, when will we?' And: 'Is there opportunity going to come up?'

"First and foremost, I just wanted to bowl a bit more."

King remembers the date – June 20, 2020 – she packed up her life and headed west. She remembers because it has been the springboard to her living out her dreams in the four years since.

The move has worked for various reasons. Opportunity, certainly; King bowled more balls in her first WNCL season at WA than she had during any campaign in her time at Victoria. And a summer later, when she completed her full transition to the WACA by also signing with the Scorchers, she bowled more balls in the WBBL than she had in any previously.

But beyond the extra overs, King also benefited from a couple of key figures, in current Australia head coach Shelley Nitschke (then WA head coach, and Australia assistant) and WA men's assistant Beau Casson (a former left-arm wrist spinner).

My perfect leg break with Alana King

She had eyed Nitschke as a potentially valuable resource to tap into, though her involvement with Casson – who played one Test back in 2008 – unfolded as a pleasant surprise.

"I touch base with him as much as I can," King says. "He's very insightful, and he helped me a lot in those first couple of years in WA – he saw a few things where he thought he could help.

"There are little things he sees that I could maybe tweak. He's definitely helped me with my approach to the crease. When I load up, I used to lean back quite a bit. So we did a couple of things to make sure that I'm quite neutral in position – I'm not leaning too far back nor forward. I'm in a strong, upright position to explode through.

"And just some other things – where the ball is when I load up, my front arm, and my positioning at the crease – he's really helped with."

King knew, as a 24-year-old, she was a work in progress when she made the move west, but her rapid growth was highlighted by a game-changing spell against the Sixers in her maiden WBBL season for the Scorchers, which sent them straight through to a final they ultimately won.

King bags three to skittle Sixers top order

Two months later, the leg-spinner had a whirlwind introduction to international cricket, debuting in all three formats in the space of a fortnight. On her Test bow in Canberra, she was entrusted by Lanning – the same captain who had used her more sparingly at Victoria – to bowl out the final overs of what proved to be a thrilling draw.

"That whole Ashes series came around so quickly and went so quickly," she says. "For Meg to throw me the ball in that pressure situation, I think she knew how hungry I was, and it showed that she had a lot of trust and faith in me to just do what I'd been doing."

The highlights kept coming, even amid sadness. King remembers being in New Zealand a few months later, and waking up to text messages from a cousin in the US, who was relaying to her the news of Shane Warne's death.

Warne had of course been an idol of King's – she was a kid in the crowd for his 700th Test wicket at the MCG – and the news rocked her. But only hours later, she was out paying tribute in the best way possible, delivering a show-stopping leg-break to bamboozle England's Tammy Beaumont.

When Alyssa Healy completed the stumping, it was an almost eerie reprisal of the Warne – Ian Healy dismissals seen so often through the 1990s.

The timing of the wicket – and its quality – shot King to prominence, the replay blending with the countless Warne tributes also doing the rounds on social media.

It wasn't the last time her ripping leg breaks would be compared with Warne's. On January 2 in Mumbai, King drifted and spun one spectacularly past the bat of the right-handed Pooja Vastrakar, clipping the off bail. Channel Seven put it side-by-side with Warne's legendary Gatting Ball on their social media channels, and it wasn't out of place.

King swats away the comparisons, a little red faced. She knows there will only be one Warne, although there are glimpses of him in this new-age leg-spinner. Not only in the way she bowls, but in the sense of theatre and showmanship as well; the pause and deep breath at the top of her mark, the trademark reflective sunnies, the passion in her celebrations.

All of it is King simply being herself. She buys into the entertainment side of cricket because she sees it as part of the fun. Which is what she is all about.

"It's the best job in the world," she says matter-of-factly. "We get to play the sport we love."

* * *

The beer and skittles stopped abruptly in mid-February, 2023. Australia were defending their T20 World Cup crown in South Africa, and moving from Gqeberha to Cape Town for the semi-final.

In the preceding match against Sri Lanka, King was brought on fifth change, and went wicket-less from her four overs. The selectors then informed her she was dropped for the massive semi-final against India at Newlands. Australia won, and three days later they won the final, with King again carrying the drinks.

"They were probably the hardest knockbacks," she says. "It hurt. That's the time you really want to be playing … that's when the tournament begins. So yeah, it sucked. It was hard to take. This team means a lot to me – like, it's my second family. So it's never an easy pill to swallow."

King took a moment to vent – or "debrief", as she puts it – with people close to her, "behind closed doors". But it was only a moment.

"My outlook on those things," she explains, "is, 'Right, if I can't be on the field with the 10 other girls, what can I do off the field to make sure they can be at their best?'

"We play a team sport for a reason. You have your moment to process it all, and then you need to understand what's required from you moving forward.

"Teammates and coaching staff have told me that I'm a high-energy person, and the team thrives off that. So how can I keep providing that energy, even if I'm not on the field? And that's where I said, 'I don't want to change the way I am just because I'm not playing'.

"Yeah, it's disappointing – no doubt – but I can still offer a lot to the team from the sidelines."

Australia have played 15 T20Is since that World Cup final. King has spent every one of them on the sidelines. Admirable as her support has been, it is a status quo she intends to change.

It is a tick over four months until another T20 World Cup. In Bangladesh, Australia will be gunning to become the first team – men or women, ODI or T20I – to win four straight World Cups.

King, naturally, is desperate to play a role on pitches she believes, from her recent experiences in Dhaka, will suit her bowling. Before then, she will turn out for Trent Rockets in The Hundred, which will be her last audition before the Australians reconvene in mid-September for a home T20I series against New Zealand, just a couple of weeks out from the World Cup.

King is looking ahead to all of it, mulling over ways in which she can add to her appeal for selectors.

"I just have to get to work," she says. "Keep showing what I can do, and try to find myself back in that T20 side. I think I've got a lot to offer, but I'm also competing against some pretty phenomenal spinners in the team.

"I'll try to bowl a lot more in different situations – I've bowled a fair bit in the Powerplay for the Scorchers now – and just expand my repertoire, rather than just bowling in the middle overs.

"I think that'll help me be a bit more versatile, and hopefully that's a bit more versatility for the Aussie team as well."

* * *

Yuelamu is 280 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, about as remote and as central as one can be in Australia at the same time.

King had been looking into spending meaningful time in an Indigenous community since her Victoria days, but the decisive impetus came from an Aussie teammate, who in the past couple of years has become a close mate as well.

"I can safely say Ash (Gardner) was a big inspiration for me to do something for (the Indigenous) community," she says. "I'd always wanted to go to Central Australia just to experience what it's like, and I always wanted to do something for the community.

"Ash is a good mate now, and just learning lots about her culture, how their ancestors lived and stuff like that, it made me want to experience (life in a remote community) and just give something back. She was thrilled that I was doing something like this, and wanting to know every little detail."

King flew into Alice Springs a couple of weeks ago. From there she climbed into a car for the four-hour trip to the town of around 150 people, where she spent the week helping teachers at a school for kids aged four to 12.

"Those kids absolutely loved playing outside," she grins. "So I'd kick the footy with them, play basketball with them, anything to keep them engaged.

"Seeing the smiles on their faces when they see you every morning … it took them a couple of days, but once you got their trust, they were all over you really, dragging me from pillar to post (laughs)."

King hopes she had an impact on the kids – and the adults – through her time in Yuelamu. She knows it had an impact on her.

"They don't have luxuries, but they are rich in so many ways," she says. "These families, and these kids, they are just happy. That warmed my heart, and I think it just put into perspective how privileged we are, living the life we do."

It is the latest lesson King is looking to heed, as she pauses to take in what's next, then assesses the bigger picture, and continues on her merry way.

With a plan, a purpose, and now perspective in tow.