Alana King didn't have female cricketers who looked like her as role models when she was growing up.
"Women's cricket wasn't really televised when I was a kid," the 26-year-old Australia legspinner, who has been on a roll since her international debut earlier this year, says. "So I watched a lot of men's cricket … [and] the man who I saw was Andrew Symonds, who was a person of colour."
A first-generation Australian of Anglo-Indian descent, King has been on a tear since her first T20I, in January, taking the most wickets for her country in the three formats combined. Success with Australia in the Ashes and the ODI World Cup led to a maiden central contract, a Hundred deal with Trent Rockets, a trophy-winning campaign in the Women's T20 Challenge in India, and a place in the squad for this month's tri-series in Ireland and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Beyond this tangible progress, the phenomenal start to her international career has also given King a platform to serve a greater purpose, she says: be a role model.
"I know in the men's team they've got Usman Khawaja. I'm trying to do the same thing: encourage the subcontinent boys and girls to pick up a bat and ball, and say that there's always going to be a place for you. If you're good enough, you'll represent Australia, if that's your intention."
King's parents, who come from the southern Indian city of Chennai, moved to Australia in the 1980s, but race and representation, she says, hardly registered as matters of importance when she was a girl. "My junior-group club really enforced that in the whole club: that we're here to play cricket, no matter what colour, what age, what gender you are."
Born in the Melbourne suburb of Clarinda, King grew up playing cricket mostly with boys. Though she remembers thinking, '"Wow, this is cool" on seeing Mel Jones and Lisa Sthalekar on TV for the first time as a kid, it didn't really strike her that they were female athletes of colour representing a country where cricket was predominantly a white sport. "I saw them just as cricketers. I was just so naïve that I didn't really care what colour people were," she says. "But obviously, as you grow older and learn about what's happening around the world, you can be like, 'Oh, okay, maybe people don't like you because you're a different colour or a different gender…'"
Though King says she has never seen herself as different because of her origins, both she and her family have been at the receiving end of racism in the past. One of the most harrowing instances was when her father, Leroy, in his early days as an immigrant in Melbourne, was pulled up by the police at gun point because of his dark hair and beard.
"It eventually turned out to be a case of mistaken identity," King says. "My elder brother, Marc, and I weren't even born then but now that incident is part of family lore. We share a laugh over it, but yeah, my parents have copped a fair bit of racism and discrimination, had to battle through those things.
"I'm grateful to them for making such a brave and big decision in moving from India to Australia to better their lives and to hopefully give a great life to their children - which they have. It would have been very daunting for them, but they did it."
The most successful phase of King's career yet has coincided with renewed global awareness of racism and discrimination, and increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement. King, who has taken a knee before every game of the WBBL in the last two seasons, often as the sole player doing so, acknowledges the overlap.
"The past 12-18 months, I've become really comfortable in who I am as a player and as a person," she says of her two stellar WBBL seasons and her ongoing breakout stretch in international cricket. "If I look back [on the decision to take a knee], I wanted to do it because it was important to me because of who I am, what my family have been through, and what I believe in."
King's luminous smile lights her face up on the Zoom call. She describes herself as "a bit energetic, fun-loving, bubbly… maybe sometimes a bit loud."
"With me, what you see is what you get. And that's what's helped me, I guess, not 'fit in' smoothly or 'fit in' nicely into the [Australian] team - but when you're comfortable in your own skin, it just makes things a lot easier."
Her awareness of where she is and where she wants to be speaks of a wisdom born of years of hard grind in a highly competitive domestic set-up. It has also informed some of her career-shaping decisions in the recent past.
Two seasons ago, after struggling getting opportunities with her home state, Victoria, King moved to Western Australia to play Women's National Cricket League (WNCL). In the WBBL, after playing a pivotal role in Melbourne Stars' run to the 2020-21 final, she signed with Perth Scorchers for the next season, which they won - their first WBBL title.
The national selectors came calling soon after and she was named in the squad for the 2022 multi-format Ashes at home, albeit as a replacement for injured first-choice legspinner Georgia Wareham. In that series, she ended up earning her first caps in T20Is, Tests and ODIs - in that order - in the space of a fortnight, and was soon on the flight across the Tasman for the ODI World Cup.
Australia have a reputation for being a conveyor belt for prodigies, which makes King, who debuted at 26, something of an aberration. There are advantages to that, she says. "Although everyone wants to get that opportunity young, having a few more years under my belt has actually done me a world of good. I'm a bit more experienced and I know my game much, much better.
"I was just shocked to be included in such a powerhouse team. But when I debuted, the message that I kept getting, whether it was from the support staff, the coaching staff or the leadership, was, 'Just be yourself. It's got you here, your skills have got you here, so don't change just because you're in a new environment.'"
All of 15 appearances old in international cricket, King has made a splash across formats with her attacking bowling. Of her 18 wickets so far for Australia, many have provided breakthroughs in games, none more memorably perhaps than the ripping legbreak that spun sharply from leg past off and had England opener Tammy Beaumont stumped in Australia's first game in this year's ODI World Cup.
"When that ball came out of my hand, it just was the most beautiful legspin delivery that could come out," King says. She celebrated the dismissal by emphatically slapping the black armbands she was wearing to pay respect to her role model, Shane Warne, who had died the previous evening, and whom she watched as an 11-year-old take a record 700th Test wicket at the MCG in December 2006.
"The way it drifted to leg stump and whizzed to off… Warnie was big on that. He made balls drift to outside the leg stump and then hit the top of off," she says. "And they keep talking about how Ian Healy was behind the stumps [for some of Warne's most iconic dismissals]. Reflecting on it now, it's just so fitting that Alyssa [Ian's niece] was behind the stumps [for the Beaumont stumping].
"And it was against England, it was the breakthrough we needed. Everything about it just, hopefully, made him dance upstairs. And hopefully, he's proud of what me, and plenty of other legspinners, are doing out on the international stage."
King followed her brother, who played representative cricket, in bowling legspin, just as she had in taking up tennis, which was her first sport of choice. She briefly also played softball in her school team, and later baseball at the Monash University Baseball Club. Having first picked up a tennis racquet at age five, she went on to compete in the Tennis Victoria Pennant, the largest inter-club representative competition in the country, and was even a ball kid in the 2011 Australian Open women's final, which Kim Clijsters won.
But the dream of playing on centre court faded as her growth in cricket proceeded at pace. At 16 she was handed her first rookie contract, with VicSpirit, the Victoria team in the WNCL. Three years later she earned a surprise call-up to Melbourne Stars for the inaugural WBBL, where she made her debut under Australia captain Meg Lanning. King broke into the senior Victoria squad in 2016, and it helped her take strides in upping her legspin game.
"Back in Victoria, when I was surrounded by some great Australian players like Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry, I tinkered with my trajectory with them and would tap into their knowledge and feedback from a batting perspective," she says. "Once they were like, 'If it gets too loopy, it's easy to come down [the track, as a batter]. If it's too flat, it's easy to pick up, so you're just trying to find that happy medium.' That's what I've tried to work on."
King has found success avoiding the overly floated deliveries that mark the bowling of some of her counterparts on the international circuit. Relying largely on her wicket-taking instinct, no matter the phase of the innings, has stood her in good stead.
"I knew I couldn't be too loopy because in the domestic set-up in Australia we're blessed with some of the best batters in the world," she says. "So when you're finding it hard to bowl to them, that's a really good challenge. Similarly, I try not to leave the stumps as much as possible, because it gives me the best chance to bring in all modes of dismissal. I just vary my pace, but my length and line pretty much stay as consistent as I can be."
She attributes part of her understanding of her strengths to Michael Beer, the former Australia left-arm fingerspinner, who was spin coach at Victoria and Melbourne Stars. Beer helped with her alignment too. While in the Victoria set-up, she also benefited from picking the brains of Australia legspinner and T20 journeyman Fawad Ahmed, and honed her skills under Trent Woodhill, Stars' head coach in the only season when they made the WBBL final. "Trent worked a lot with Adam Zampa [at Stars men's team] and he gave me a few tips on what Zamps used to do and what made him so successful in white-ball cricket," King says.
Since she moved to Western Australia, she has worked closely with Beau Casson, the former the Australia left-arm wristspinner, who "tinkered just a couple of things to help me get more consistent, which I have".
Among those who have influenced her career, King reserves a special mention for Kirsten Beams. "As a young Victoria legspinner, she was the biggest mentor I had, and someone I looked up to. She was playing for Australia at the time and was my team-mate at Victoria.
"We were quite different as legspinners. She was very much into the pads, skid on, maybe not as big a turner as I like to be, but I learned so much from Beamsy, so it was special she presented me my baggy green when I made my Australia debut this year."
When Australia take the field next, King, like many of her team-mates, will be without the guidance of someone most of them have played all their careers under: former head coach Matthew Mott. After an era-defining stint that culminated in the 2022 ODI World Cup win, Mott quit in May to take up the England men's white-ball coach role.
"For a head coach to have your back no matter what happens on the field was quite reassuring," King says of her former "golf buddy" on tour. "When I first came in, Motty knew I was a bit nervous and tentative to be myself. Just being in a new squad when everyone is so established, he made me really be myself.
"The relationship he has with his players is just phenomenal. And I applaud him for that. He's real with everyone. There's nothing fake about any relationship. He just wants the best for you and you to perform at your best, so I am going to miss him."
Mott's interim successor for Australia's Ireland tour and the Commonwealth Games is Shelley Nitschke, whom King first worked with when she was part of the National Performance Squad in 2019, and later at Perth Scorchers.
"Shell is well and truly fit enough for the job," says King. "She's got so much experience behind her. Not much will change because she and Motty, they work quite similarly when they're coaching."
In the days ahead, King is relishing the prospect of adding to her trophy cabinet. The first-ever Commonwealth Games women's cricket tournament beckons.
"We have a big 12 months coming up, and the Commonwealth Games - you grow up watching them as a kid, like you do the Olympics. So I am looking forward to be involved in it, maybe play a match or two and help Australia grab gold, be in the [athletes'] village, and hopefully meet the Australian swim team, who were quite dominant in the pool in the recent Olympic Games."
King's last few months - "a summer that just kept on giving" - is the kind of thing that kids dream of, she says. And while she lives the dream, she knows that in doing so, she might be empowering others to dream.
"My biggest message," she says, "and it will always be my message as my career goes on, is: no matter what your colour is or your background, if you want something you'll go out and do it and you'll work hard for it."
"Hopefully, kids can get to see that a bit more, and they can have some someone to relate to, because you can't be what you can't see. And the more people see us, the more they can aspire to be the next Usman Khawaja, the next Mel Jones, or Lisa Sthalekar."