While possessing almost polar opposite personalities, Ashleigh Gardner and Grace Harris form a fearsome duo in Australia’s middle-order
Australia’s odd middle-order duo loom as Final key
Ashleigh Gardner and Grace Harris are the odd couple of Australia’s middle-order, but they may just be the key to securing a sixth T20 World Cup final.
The allrounders boast similar skillsets, a knack for powerful striking combined with finger spin, but that might be where the similarities end.
In Harris, there is the big-hitting, big-talking extrovert who enjoys commentating her own shots, whether she is in the nets or in the middle of a World Cup match.
Gardner is quieter, less interested in chit-chat, but equally dangerous with willow in hand.
For an extended period, Gardner's presence in the Australian XI had played a significant role in keeping Harris out of it, given their similar skills.
But now there is room for Gardner and Harris in the same side, after national selectors asked themselves, ‘why not both?’ ahead of the T20 leg of the 2022 Ashes.
Most international XIs would sacrifice a minor limb to have just one finisher of the pair’s calibre in their XI; Australia have two (and then there’s the evolved Ellyse Perry thrown into the mix as well).
While Harris and Gardner’s opportunities to bat together in this World Cup have been scant, they showed exactly what can happen when their powers combined during Australia’s tour of India in December, when they put on a 129-run fifth-wicket partnership off just 10.2 overs in the final match of the series.Image Id: 0A8969D08F8F4367B08B1009DDC22336 Image Caption: Gardner and Harris after their big partnership in Mumbai // Getty
The pair had first signalled their potency as a middle-order combination during the Commonwealth Games last August, when they rescued Australia from 5-49 against India with a 51-run stand in 5.4 overs.
And both Gardner and Harris believe the chances of their own personal success are incrementally increased by the presence of the other.
"I love batting with those (Harris and Perry), because I feel like it takes a lot of pressure off me," Gardner told The Scoop earlier this month.
"Especially Grace, she does a lot of talk (in the middle) and I don't really get a word in which is fine.
"In a lot of batting orders, I'm always seen as the person that has to be the big hitter.
"But when I bat with Grace, I can kind of go into the shadows and play my normal game and she can blast away bowling attacks.
"So she’s someone that I do really like batting with."
Harris is accustomed to sharing the middle, or at least an XI, with a teammate able to match or surpass her own hitting abilities.
When she is wearing the teal of the Brisbane Heat or the maroon of Queensland, she does so alongside her sister, Laura, who holds the record for the fastest Women’s National Cricket League century and who hammered an 18-ball fifty in WBBL|08.
In Gardner, she finds similar support.
"If you know that the other end can also make up the boundaries real quickly or can make up the score real quick, it takes the pressure off me thinking that I have to go the very next ball," Harris told cricket.com.au prior to Australia’s departure for South Africa.
"So you can reassess your risk taking and probably pick the better option all the time and not just be swinging from ball one.
"You can tactically play a bit smarter. Ash and I, we kind of feed off each other.
"She's fantastic to bat with, it's always handy when you know that other people can really put the foot down and you can watch them accelerate as well, because that's also the entertaining part."
Excitingly for Australia, and worryingly for their rivals, Perry’s recent evolution into a fast-scoring middle-order presence – her response to being dropped from Australia’s T20 XI to make way for Harris in January 2022 – is threatening to turn an aggressive duo into a power-hitting triumvirate.
She brings yet another perspective to the crease, with her years of experience and cricketing smarts another counterbalance to the strengths of Gardner and Harris – who are only too happy to welcome ‘Pez’ to the club.
"I love batting with Pez because she knows the right things to say and she reads conditions really well and she knows what bowlers are going to do," Gardner said.
"She's someone that I love being able to chat to while out in the middle and she also takes a lot of pressure off me in that way, because she gives me tips and ideas on how to go about things, sometimes things that I don't think of."
ICC Women's T20 World Cup 2023
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Alyssa Healy (vc), Darcie Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Heather Graham, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham
Australia's T20 World Cup 2023 fixtures
Feb 11: beat New Zealand by 97 runs
Feb 14: beat Bangladesh by eight wickets
Feb 16: beat Sri Lanka by 10 wickets
Feb 18: beat South Africa by six wickets
Feb 23: Australia beat India by five runs
Feb 24: South Africa beat England by six runs
Feb 26: Australia v South Africa, Newlands, Cape Town, 3pm local (12am Feb 27 AEDT)