Sam Ferris, at Allan Border Field, Brisbane
Sam Ferris, at Allan Border Field, Brisbane
High above Allan Border Field in the top level of the Stuart Law Stand, a radio reporter declared in a live cross back to England that the opening match of the Women's Ashes was coincidently being turned on its head by a player named Ash.
The line (not his own, promised the reporter) drew groans and scoffs from the surrounding media, but the fact was he was spot on – Ash Gardner was changing the outcome of the first ODI in Brisbane in a series that could well become known as 'Ash's Ashes' for years to come.
Gardner entered the fray late on Sunday afternoon with Australia in a dog fight against England, the reigning world champions having clawed their way back into the match after posting a modest target of 229 for the hosts to chase in glorious sunshine.
But in an 18-ball onslaught that featured two furious sixes and a brace of sweetly-timed fours – from her first two balls, no less – Gardner roared, England faltered and Australia took a one-nil series lead.
"I like being out in the middle rather than sitting on the sidelines," Gardner said after play.
"I think I get more nervous being off the field.
"I just love going out to bat with my country and batting with one of the best, Alex Blackwell, she's so experienced and knowledgeable and she gave me some freedom to do what I do best and just hit the boundaries as often as possible."
Gardner is a cagey off-spinner and power-hitter, much like her idol Andrew Symonds, and the parallels between the two become clearer with each match-winning effort.
She picked up 3-47 from nine overs with the ball, but it's with the bat where she hit with force like Queensland's own Symonds.
"If it's in my zone I do try to swing hard," Gardner said when asked if her mindset was 'four or six' when she walked out to bat.
"That's what I do quite well, is find the boundary pretty often.
"That's one thing in my game that is really positive. I know that if I do get bogged down I can generally find that boundary ball and I think today they probably bowled it in my slot quite a few times and I was lucky enough to find the boundary."
Her two sixes, hit over deep backward square leg to the thrill of the packed audience, were her biggest shots but perhaps not her best.
A first-ball flick to the leg-side rope was a thing of beauty but her square drive behind point the next delivery was even better.
It's those awkward angles that Gardner finds and exploits that makes her so hard to bowl to, according to Blackwell, who shared a rapid 39-run stand with the 20-year-old from the best seat in the house.
"Ash hits to interesting areas and has a really great power game," Blackwell said, whose unbeaten 67 guided Australia to a tense two-run win and earned her the player-of-the-match award.
"England are a great side in that they know their bowling really, really well and they've got very clear plans and they can execute to that.
"At Allan Border Oval, with those short pockets, Ash was always going to capitalise on that.
"They'll have to look at some other options for their death plans to Ash Gardner."
The knock impressed England captain Heather Knight, who said after play she was not surprised about what Gardner could deliver.
"She batted very well," Knight said. "She came in and struck the ball very cleanly and really put our bowlers under pressure.
"We felt like we scrapped our way back into the game and Ash came in and struck it the way she did and took it away from us.
"We felt like we could win that tight one, and we've had good experience of winning tight one, but unfortunately today it wasn't quite to be."
Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes
Australia lead England 2-0
Australia squad (ODI and Test): Rachael Haynes (C), Alex Blackwell (VC), Kristen Beams, Nicole Bolton, Lauren Cheatle, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa (Test only), Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.
England squad: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Laura Marsh, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield, Danielle Wyatt.
First ODI Australia won by two wickets
Brisbane Charity Partner: Lord Mayor's Charitable Trust
Second ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 26
Third ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 29
Day-Night Test North Sydney Oval, November 9-12
First T20 North Sydney Oval, November 17
North Sydney Charity Partner: McGrath Foundation
Second T20 Manuka Oval, November 19
Third T20 Manuka Oval, November 21
Canberra Charity Partner: Lord's Taverners ACT