A timely piece of advice directing Ashleigh Gardner to concentrate on her off-spin bowling is paying off handsomely for the Australian allrounder.
Gardner won plenty of attention during the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League last summer for her exploits with the bat, when she scored 414 runs including three half-centuries for the Sydney Sixers.
But breaking into Australia’s imposing batting line-up is no easy task, so it’s with the ball that the 20-year-old has carved out her place spot in the national XI.
Since making her debut against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui in March, Gardner has played each of the five ODIs thereafter and has captured two wickets from three matches in the World Cup to date.
She’s yet to have a chance to properly show off her skills with the bat at international level, consistently named at No.9 behind the all-star line-up of Bolton, Mooney, Lanning, Perry, Villani, Blackwell, Healy and Jonassen.
However, she has formed a formidable slow-bowling unit with left-armer Jess Jonassen and leg-spinners Amanda-Jade Wellington and Kristen Beams, with her finger spin offering a key point of difference for Australian captain Meg Lanning as she turns the ball in the opposite direction to her spinning peers.
"I’ve worked pretty hard on my spin bowling over the last couple of years," Gardner said in Leicester on Wednesday.
"I think most teams saw me as a more of a batter, but I guess I’m a little bit of a threat with off-spin now.
"The more hard work you do, the better you’re going to get. And I think that’s what I’ve really tried to nail these past couple of years, cementing my spot in the teams I do get a chance with.
"I think I’ve bowled pretty well in these first three games and I think I’ve got more to prove."
While Gardner has been working on that aspect of her game for several years, it was a conversation with Sydney Sixers coach Ben Sawyer late last year which really spurred her to greater heights with the ball.
It paid off, as she bowled in all but one of the Sixers’ matches in WBBL|02 and captured 10 wickets before being called into the Australian squad.
"When I was first selected in the NSW squad … the coaches said to me that I should keep working on my bowling, because it was something I was doing more part-time rather than focusing on it solely," she said.
"And when I spoke to my Sixers coach late last year, and he said ‘really work on your off-spin bowling, because you’re going to play a massive part in the upcoming tournament’.
"I’ve just tried to nail the basics so far, but obviously I’ve got thing to improve. You never stop learning."
It’s been a busy 18 months for Gardner, who also captained the first-ever Australian Indigenous women’s team on a successful tour of India last year.
It’s an honour she again received this week, named Cricket Australia's National Indigenous Captain alongside Dan Christian.
The Indigenous women’s and men’s teams will have a series of high performance camps and matches in preparation for a tour of the United Kingdom next year that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1868 Aboriginal team that became the first sporting team from Australia to tour internationally.
"It’s a massive honour being named captain, not only do I get to represent my country but also my culture," Gardner said.
"I think that’s a massive thing, not many people get to do that and being captain is a massive achievement in my career so far."
Australia will be aiming to maintain their unbeaten run in the World Cup when they meet Pakistan at Leicester’s Grace Road on Wednesday.
The match will be broadcast live from 7.30pm AEST on Fox Sports, live streamed on 9Now and can be heard on ABC Grandstand.
Women's World Cup Guide
Australia World Cup squad: Sarah Aley, Kristen Beams, Alex Blackwell (vc), Nicole Bolton, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Meg Lanning (c), Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa, Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.