Skipper Meg Lanning says Ashleigh Gardner has “come of age” over the last 12 months as the off-spinning allrounder edges closer towards an international debut for the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars.
Uncapped duo Gardner and Molly Strano have been named in Australia’s squad for the upcoming limited-overs series against New Zealand next month.
Gardner shone for eventual champion the Sydney Sixers during the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League, securing the Rebel Young Gun award.
The 19-year-old scored 414 runs at 27.60 – only Australia stars Lanning, Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy and Elyse Villani compiled more runs – and took 10 wickets.
“She’s come of age, I guess, in the last 12 months and really dominated, which is what we want to see,” Lanning said of the Bankstown-born teenager.
“She’ll fit into the group really well, a great kid. Hopefully she can take her opportunity.
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“She’s often come in under pressure in the WBBL – two wickets down early – and she just plays to her own game, plays to her strength and takes the game on, which is exactly what we want in the side.
“She’s played some outrageous shots and innings throughout the WBBL, so it’s exciting to see young girls coming through and putting their hand up at state level and being rewarded with selection.”
Gardner was a walking highlights reel during the WBBL, dispatching a delivery out of North Sydney Oval against the Melbourne Renegades and snaring a brilliant one-handed return catch in the semi-final against Hobart Hurricanes.
She captained the first Indigenous Australian women’s cricket team on their tour to India in May and was a member of the Governor-General’s XI that defeated South Africa in November.
If she manages to cap her rapid rise with a national debut, she will become the first Indigenous woman to achieve the feat since Faith Thomas in 1958.
Australia will host the New Zealand in T20s in Melbourne, Geelong and Adelaide in February – all double-headers with the KFC T20INTL series between Australia’s men and Sri Lanka - before crossing the Tasman for the three-match Rose Bowl one-day international series.
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Off-spinner Strano has also been elevated for the three-match T20 series and has been a model of consistency this summer.
The 24-year-old topped the wicket table in the Women’s National Cricket League with 13 scalps in six matches and carried that outstanding form into WBBL|02, where she bagged 21 wickets at 14.80 for the Renegades.
“She’s been the top wicket-taker in T20 cricket for a number of years now,” Lanning said of Strano.
“A really hard-worker who loves cricket and it’s great to see her rewarded and we’re looking forward to having her around the group.”
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The Southern Stars will be without gun allrounder Ellyse Perry for at least the T20 series because of a hamstring injury, with selectors hopeful she will be fit to return in time for the 50-over fixtures.
The White Ferns have also been hit by injury, with Sophie Devine ruled out of all six matches due to a dislocated thumb sustained during the WBBL.
Lanning said Australia would have few issues switching between formats over a short period.
“One-dayers seem to drag on a fair bit now that we play so many T20s,” she said.
“It’s just really knowing your game plan and what suits your team and individuals and having the patience and really just backing yourself to execute that as best you can.
“We’ve been in good form in one-dayers over the past couple of years, so we’ve got a good formula going, but it’s important we become really consistent with it.”
Australia v New Zealand T20s
17 February: MCG, Melbourne, 2.05pm AEDT
19 February: Kardinia Park, Geelong, 2.35pm AEDT
22 February: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, 2.05pm AEDT
Australia v New Zealand ODIs
26 February: Eden Park No.2, Auckland, 9am AEDT
2 March: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, 9am AEDT
5 March: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, 9am AEDT