Katie Perkins had most things going for her as a 28-year-old in 2017. A New Zealand regular across formats, she also thought she'd landed a dream job after graduating as a police officer from the prestigious Royal New Zealand College four years prior, at times balancing between the two jobs to the extent that she had to stretch herself for 19 hours a day.
Then, in December that year, life threw a little twist. Perkins injured her finger and had to undergo surgery. When she returned to match fitness, she was dropped from the squad that faced West Indies women at home in February. The 'body blow' was to come in June, when she was left out of the tour of Ireland and England. She started to wonder if her time in New Zealand colours had passed her.
Now, she is back in the New Zealand squad for the series against India, having shown good form for Auckland in the ongoing domestic Women's One Day Competition, where she has aggregated 176 runs in her last six matches at an average of 88. If she makes the XI in Napier on January 24, it will be Perkins' first international appearance in 14 months. For a change, she wouldn't need to worry about loss of pay, having accumulated enough paid leaves "for the first time in my life (laughs)."
"There were moments when I wasn't sure if I'd ever be back in the New Zealand squad again," she tells ESPNcricinfo. "I went back to work full-time as a police officer, as opposed to being part-time. I was starting to get a picture of what life after cricket looks like for me. I did start to wonder if I would make it back, but it's because of my Auckland Hearts cricket team that my motivation to play was there."
Part of the self-doubts was because she didn't quite understand why she was dropped. "It's when I missed out there [for the England tour], my motivation took a real hit, because I hadn't understood why I'd been dropped. I found it harder to accept," she says. "There were months when I didn't want to be at training at times. I knew if I wanted to be playing well for Auckland, I couldn't slack off at training. So that kept me going."
The period when she was left out coincided with what Perkins describes as the "best thing to happen", even if she felt differently at the time. An advertisement through the New Zealand police communications for a role only serving officers could apply for turned her life around. The Auckland Police department was looking for a Youth Engagement Officer in a full-time capacity. Perkins contemplated for a while, before filling in her application. Among the shortlists, her previous experience helped her land the role. Suddenly, being dropped from the national team had opened a new door for her.
"It was just a matter of amazing timing," she says. "Had I been picked, I wouldn't have been able to apply for this job, so it's amazing how life works out. Not being able to go to England actually provided me with this amazing opportunity to be in the role that I absolutely love. The job has given me something to keep me busy, and find enjoyment and passion outside of cricket."
For a better part of the last eight months, Perkins has been working with young people who get into low-level crimes - underage drinking, shop lifting, running away from home. Part of her responsibility is to counsel the offenders - many of whom are minors - and try to set them back on the right track.
"My job is to meet them, their families and find out what is going on at a deeper level, because it's usually more than what is just on the surface," she explains. "I just try and be a mentor who helps them curb their negative behavior and see if we can get them back on a positive path before they go too far down their criminal activities."
"Imagine living in mud huts, walking for two hours to fetch water. If there is a drought, your livelihood is at risk. There is no money to eat. Being in that environment opened me to a life beyond cricket" - Perkins on a trip to Africa that she termed as 'eye opening"
Outside of cricket and her role with the police, Perkins has also spent considerable time trying to work for the underprivileged. Her cricket trips over the years to different countries, which involved seeing a different life to the "privileged ones we lead" drew her towards doing something about it. Perkins and her sister have adopted a sponsor child each in Uganda and Ethiopia, taking care of their education, shelter, food and other necessities that most kids in rural Africa are denied.
"That was a cool experience, an eye-opener," she says. "In a way, I see a lot of it through my policing role too. I see families struggle, young kids brought up in a tough environment for no fault of theirs. Imagine living in mud huts, walking for two hours to fetch water. If there is a drought, your livelihood is at risk. There is no money to eat. Being in that environment opened me to a life beyond cricket."
It's this balance between life, her full-time profession, and cricket - something she couldn't find earlier - that she underlines as an important step in her rediscovery. She attributes part of her second coming to former New Zealand allrounder Andre Adams, her mentor and batting coach. It was an unlikely partnership - Adams was assigned to Perkins upon request for a coach - but one she is thankful for.
"He was already employed by Auckland Cricket. Because I'd gone there, and was keen for extra coaching, they offered Andre as an option," Perkins says. "He had never coached women before, so it was a new concept for both of us. We formed a good relationship, to the extent that I completely trust his judgement and opinion on stuff.
"I was gutted when he left New Zealand to take up a coaching role at New South Wales, but I can't fault him for that. He has been my best-ever coach. He helped me get out of my own way. I used to be very concerned with the technical side of the game. If I was struggling, I kept looking at technique. He helped me use what I have already and find the freedom I needed to play my best. Not just with batting, but with fielding and my mental game as well. I owe a lot to him."