Close games and exciting finishes have been a highlight of the Cricket World Cup so far, but it seems Australia have no interest in anything less than total domination. Even when the opposition have felt like they are in with a chance, whether it is through a strong batting performance to set a record total for a chase or taking multiple quick wickets to see off the top order cheaply, Meg Lanning’s side simply refuses to be beaten.
What kind of person, then does it take to walk into a team this dominant and not only hold her own, but excel? Enter Alana King, the 26-year-old leg spinner who was selected in the team for the Ashes after an ACL injury ruled out incumbent Georgia Wareham. Unlike some of the teenage quicks who burst onto the scene each summer in the Women’s Big Bash League, King did not appear as if from nowhere. Over the seven seasons of the WBBL, she gradually imprinted herself on the public consciousness until she became a familiar face. King believes this more gradual rise has been instrumental to her success.
“People will get their opportunities at different times,” she says from the Australian team’s base in Wellington. “I’ve obviously had to wait a few more years than others, but it’s meant that I’m really happy with where I am and I’m confident in where my cricket is. I think you’ve got to, first and foremost, be comfortable in your own skin. And I have done that over the last few years.”
It is that confidence in herself that allows King to be so calm. When the pressure started to build in the game against South Africa and none of the six previous bowlers had been able to break the opening partnership, King was thrilled to be given the opportunity.
“To be honest, I think I’ve been blessed to be in those positions before whether it was at the Stars or the Scorchers,” she said. “I love to get the ball thrown to me in those type of situations, I think it really brings the best out in me, because you’ve got to be on from ball one. And I really like that challenge.”
That aspect of her personality shines through in the way she approaches the difficult art of leg spin. While she had role models from her older brother to the king of spin himself Shane Warne, it was her willingness to embrace difference that first set her on that path.
“I just realised that everyone was bowling pace, I want to do something different,” she said.
“I want to do something different” could well be the motto for King’s career. In every moment she is completely authentic and has no interest in compromising her beliefs to fit in with the crowd.
Over the past two seasons of the WBBL King, whose parents hail from Chennai in India, has consistently taken a knee before each game – even though many of her teammates have chosen not to. The eradication of racism and discrimination is a cause she believes in passionately.
“It’s to represent my family and what they’ve been through,” she says. “I think having immigrant parents who moved over to Australia in the 80s, they faced a fair bit of discrimination. This is me standing up for them because they went through a lot.”
While she may sometimes be a lone figure in making this symbolic gesture, King feels supported by her teammates whether they stand or kneel with her.
“When I’ve spoken to the team regarding why I want to do it, I’ve had nothing but full support,” she says. “Just before the WBBL this season it was raised again, and I was happy to speak to the group and told them why I want to do it and what it means to me. I think it can be quite powerful when you’ve got your whole team around you supporting what you’re doing.”
The ever-increasing visibility of the WBBL and women’s cricket more broadly has been important to King, not just for her own career, but because of the opportunities it offers to educate and raise awareness of the effects of racism and discrimination for people all over the world.
As her own platform has increased as a result of breaking into the Australian team and making her mark on one of the world’s biggest stages, she has taken the time to reflect on how she can use that influence. While she belonged to a junior club that was diverse and inclusive, she knows that in many places in Australia, cricket has been a predominantly white sport. King hopes she can show people that is changing.
“You’ve got to use the platforms you’re on,” she says. “If I can inspire the younger generation of subcontinent kids to pick up a bat and ball and to aspire to play for Australia, even though they’re from a subcontinent background, that’s one thing that I’m really passionate about.”
“Knowing that they can play for this beautiful country that we live in and they’ve got role models that they can look up to, whether it’s Usman Khawaja in the men’s team or myself in the women’s team, I think that’s big.”
In the immediate future, King’s thoughts are firmly on Wednesday’s semi-final against the West Indies and the opportunity to help propel Australia to a desperately sought World Cup win with her ability to take wickets in key moments. But her passion, determination and willingness to stand out from the crowd means that her long-term future is destined to be even more exciting – both on and off the field.