Australia allrounder Ashleigh Gardner admits the pressure of the international stage got the better of her when she made her international debut earlier this year.
Gardner’s hard-hitting feats in the Rebel WBBL earned her a T20I debut against New Zealand in February – impressing selectors enough for her to be named at No.3 in the Australia order in the absence of an injured Ellyse Perry.
But the then-teenager couldn’t reproduce the form that had seen her finish fifth on the WBBL run-scoring charts, looking visibly nervous in all three matches as she was dismissed for 0, 5 and 0.
Six months on, it’s a very different story for Gardner, whose off-spin bowling helped her cement a spot in the Australia ODI XI during the Women’s World Cup in the UK.
Now, with the multi-format Ashes – which include three ODIs, one Test and three T20s – less than two months away, Gardner is eager to show what she can do across all three formats.
“If I was ever to be given Test honours and receive that Baggy Green, it would be the biggest moment of my career,” Gardner told cricket.com.au.
“And if I was to play in more T20 matches, I’d want to hope they’re a bit better than the ones I’ve already played in.
“If given the opportunity to bat wherever in those games, I’d try and showcase what I’m actually able to do in the T20 format.
“There probably was a bit of pressure on me to score runs (in the T20s against New Zealand) after how I played in the Big Bash at No.3 and I thought it probably wasn’t going to be any different.
“But pulling on a different shirt made a whole lot of difference and I think the nerves got the better of me in all three games.
“I was going in so early, we lost one of our wickets so early in each game and I just let the pressure get to my head rather than backing my ability.”
Gardner acquitted herself admirably under pressure during the World Cup, playing every game for Australia and picking up eight wickets.
Her opportunities with the bat were scarce, coming in at eight or nine, but she showed glimpses of her potential when she struck a six first ball against England, and with a cameo of 22 from 13 against Pakistan.
“The 50-over cricket has helped (my confidence),” she said. “When I’m bowling well, that gives me confidence that I’m going to bat well.”
Now, the 20-year-old hopes to leverage the confidence gained from that campaign and put her best foot forward with the bat when she lines up for new state South Australia in the Women’s National Cricket League.
While she was forced to bat lower down the order at NSW behind the likes of Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy, Alex Blackwell and Rachael Haynes, Gardner is set to be handed more responsibility with the Scorpions.
And with Australia head coach Matthew Mott already hinting that Australia may alter their team balance for the Ashes, Gardner has a chance to state her case for a move up the national team order as well.
“We’re already spoken about the potential to rejig the balance of the team,” Mott told cricket.com.au earlier this month.
“So allrounders like Ash will be looked upon favourably with bat and ball.
“Ash has been a revelation with the ball for us. We went over (to England) with good expectations but just to see the growth in her in the last 18 months has been extraordinary.
“There’s great stuff with her batting to come as well, she’s got some technical things she’s working on.
“When she first came into the T20 side and got the opportunity at number three, it didn’t quite come off but we’re expecting her to really develop and be in the top six at some stage.
“It’s just a matter of her consistently knocking out some scores.”
Gardner – who has confirmed she will remain with the Sixers in WBBL|03 – has been busy training with the Scorpions since returning from the UK, with the squad playing practice matches on the Sunshine Coast this week.
She admitted it would feel strange pulling on a new strip after spending her formative years coming up through the NSW pathways system, but is relishing the chance to play in a new environment.
“It’s a very exciting team because there are so many young girls who will hopefully all be here for a few years,” she added.
“It’ll definitely be different pulling on a red shirt instead of a light blue shirt for the first round of the WNCL.”
She’s also expecting plenty of chat when she comes up against her former NSW teammates during the second half of the 50-over domestic season in February.
“I’ll play with my Sixers teammates and then go back and play for South Australia, and they’ve already told me they’ll sledge me, which I’m OK with.
“But it’s going to be a friendly rivalry there, I know what they can do and they know what I can do.”
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