A dodgy digit and sleepless night couldn't stop Ashleigh Gardner from bowling Australia to victory and herself into the record books in the Ashes Test at Trent Bridge
Ash's 'tragic' moment sums up all-round transformation
Off a few hours of restless sleep and with a dodgy finger, Ashleigh Gardner spun her way into the record books with a performance for the ages at Trent Bridge.
Gardner's off-spin claimed 8-66 in the fourth innings to wrap up the sole Ashes Test by 89 runs, and took her haul for the match to 12 wickets.
It was the best match haul ever by an Australian woman, bettering Betty Wilson's 11-16 at Junction Oval in 1958, and sits behind only Pakistan's Shaiza Khan return of 13 against West Indies in 2004.
Gardner went to sleep on Sunday night having claimed the key scalps of Tammy Beaumont, Heather Knight and Natalie Sciver-Brunt earlier in the afternoon, following on from her four first innings wickets.
Knowing she was likely the key to victory on Monday's fifth day, it is not surprising she had trouble sleeping.Image Id: 0DAD49843E6040028AF227A07877808C
"I was awake at 3am this morning and I was actually thinking about bowling, which was a bit tragic," Gardner revealed on Monday afternoon.
"I was wide awake, literally thinking about how I was going to get the batters out and I've never done that before.
"I felt like I was awake for a very long time last night.
"But it just shows how much the game meant to me and I'm sure the other girls probably had a bit of a sleepless night as well knowing that we were in a really good position but it could have gone either way."
Whatever she was thinking about, it worked – it took Gardner just 90 minutes to take all five remaining wickets on Monday morning.
Making her performance all the more impressive was Gardner's lack of preparation with the ball in the week leading into the match.
She did not bowl in Australia's three-day warm-up match against England A in Leicester after being struck on her right index figure during a fielding drill on the first morning of the game.Image Id: DFC2FEFA9E5F40F59A7B59E2B43C53BF Image Caption: Gardner claims the final wicket of Danni Wyatt to win the Test for Australia // Getty
"I caught one on the end of my finger (which) annoyed the ligaments on my bowling finger ... it was quite frustrating because I didn't get that match practice, but it was about trusting what I'd already done," Gardner said.
"I wasn't going to lose a skill overnight and it was just being able to trust that and know my good stuff was good enough.
"It's almost stretched that ligament a little bit, so as soon as I wasn't bowling, I put a splint straight on it, just to protect it because in the field is where I'm more likely to get hit.
"But adrenaline does funny things and I completely forget about it as soon as the ball's in hand.
"Fingers crossed I just keep icing it and making sure that it's fine for the rest of the series."
Gardner has a Belinda Clark Award to her name, was player of the match in the 2018 T20 World Cup final, has played a part in four World Cup victories and is the reigning WBBL Player of the Tournament.
But her performance at Trent Bridge was a defining moment in the 25-year-old's career.Image Id: F5645AE1DCF64A3B856B013DF7869204
The Muruwari woman had never before taken more than one wicket in a Test innings – her last visit to England in 2019 saw her claim two for the match in Taunton – and after breaking into the Australian team as a batting allrounder in 2017, she has transformed herself into one of the world's best spin bowlers.
"Something that I've worked really hard on with both bat and ball is around that consistency piece and I've done a lot of work with Shell (Nitschke)," she said.
"I feel like I can play both roles in attacking and then trying to defend as well.
"It's something that I've worked really hard on and it's nice to see that I'm reaping the benefits from it.
"The more that I've matured, I don't take things to heart as much anymore.
"I can certainly get frustrated over things, but it's almost like, OK, they're allowed to play good shots, so as long as they're playing those off my good balls, I can live with that.
"But if I'm bowling trash, well they deserve to go to the boundary. So it's being able to be OK with that."
Australia captain Alyssa Healy has been able to watch Gardner's transformation closely, not only at the international level but also at New South Wales and the Sydney Sixers.
With a golden era of Australian players now aged above 30 – including Healy, Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen – the Australia skipper can see Gardner playing a pivotal role in continuing the dominance of the world-beating team.
"There's a big group of us that are over 30 now … and I'm not retiring anyone in the room and I'm not retiring myself but if you look at our squad, there's a large group of us (in that age group) and there's a group in that middle period that are just finding their feet in the international game," Healy said.
"I think Ash is one of those key personnel that has still got another 10-years plus in the game and is confident enough in her ability and her skills to be able to go out there and compete time after time.
"She's going to be a real leader in this group for a long period of time.
"I'm really, really proud of Ash, she's come a really long way as a cricketer over the last couple of seasons and really grown into an amazing allrounder in world cricket, and she's really adaptable to any conditions in any format and I think she showed that out there in particular today."
CommBank Ashes Tour of the UK 2023
Australia squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham
England Test squad: Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver-Brunt (vc), Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Kate Cross, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Danielle Gibson, Amy Jones, Emma Lamb, Issy Wong, Danielle Wyatt
Australia lead the multi-format series 4-0
Test: Australia won by 89 runs
First T20I: July 1 at Edgbaston, Birmingham, 6.35pm (3.35am July 2 AEST)
Second T20I: July 5 at The Oval, London, 6.35pm (3.35am July 6 AEST)
Third T20I: July 8 at Lord’s, London, 6.35pm (3.35am July 9 AEST)
First ODI: July 12 at The County Ground, Bristol, 1pm (10pm AEST)
Second ODI: July 16 at The Rose Bowl, Southampton, 11am (7pm AEST)
Third ODI: July 18 at The County Ground, Taunton, 1pm (10pm AEST)