CommBank T20Is v New Zealand
Gardner's vital knock proves her most mature
The evolution of Ash Gardner, on display in her crucial 61 to start the summer, shapes as one of Australian cricket's most exciting story lines
Adam Burnett at Allan Border Field, Brisbane
26 September 2020, 07:11 PM AEST
Ashleigh Gardner has played innings both spectacular and significant for Australia across the past three-and-a-half years but today's match-winning 61 against New Zealand in Brisbane might have been her most mature.
Gardner was 20 years old and visibly nervous when she teamed up with Meg Lanning to guide Australia to the World T20 title in the Caribbean in 2018, with her unbeaten 33 adding to a three-wicket haul and a promise of so much more to come from the gifted allrounder.
In the intervening period that potential has arrived in fits and starts, but at Allan Border Field on Saturday afternoon the right-hander seemed to have taken another step in her evolution.
It was evident even before play the central role Gardner played as both sides stood in a barefoot circle to connect to country, which was a show of solidarity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and New Zealanders and a recognition of black lives lost in custody.
.@AusWomenCricket and @WHITE_FERNS come together to form a Barefoot Circle to connect to country 🙌🏼 The toss is just 10 mins away... #AUSvNZ pic.twitter.com/gcRxyvrBrx— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 26, 2020
As one of only six Indigenous cricketers to have represented Australia, an assumed advocacy role must have been a challenging one for her to take on, particularly given she was a teenager when she burst into the national consciousness.
Yet she has never shied away from it, and as with her batting, she has grown impressively into the role, speaking eloquently on difficult subjects and leading initiatives within the Australian group such as a Barefoot Circle at every new training venue they visit.
Today, coming to the middle at 3-46, her maturity was evident through her deeds with the bat.
At the crease for exactly 10 overs, she faced two-thirds of the balls bowled through the most crucial period of the game, and promptly transformed Australia's innings.
After guiding her first ball past third man for four, she accumulated just two singles from her next nine balls, weighing the gravity of the moment against a traditional instinct to go big, and communicating smartly with the experienced Rachael Haynes.
"There was still plenty of time for me to get myself in," Gardner said post-match. "The message (Haynes) kept reiterating to me was to get myself in and if I was under a one-hundred strike-rate she knew I could catch up.
"We knew it was tricky early – we saw that. When (Lea) Tahuhu did dig it in short it was coming off (the pitch) quite slow, so at the start of the day we were probably wanting higher than what we actually got but with the world-class bowling attack we've got, we knew we could defend those lower totals."
After 10 balls to get herself in, Gardner's next 31 deliveries reaped 55 runs, with 38 of those coming in boundaries; three sixes were sent into the outer beyond deep midwicket and another five fours were sprayed to all parts.
It was the storm after the calm, the type of assault that Gardner can deliver with a force matched by few.
She mentioned post-match that she is feeling "fit and strong" after such a sustained period of work with the strength and conditioning staff at Cricket New South Wales.
Certainly her power game has always been her strong suit, but on today's evidence, it may well have reached new heights.
It is just another part of the Gardner evolution, which will surely be one of the most exciting elements of Australian cricket to witness as her career unfolds.
CommBank T20I and ODI series
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Maitlan Brown, Erin Burns, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham, Belinda Vakarewa
New Zealand squad: Sophie Devine (c), Suzie Bates, Natalie Dodd, Deanna Doughty, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Amelia Kerr, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Hannah Rowe, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu, Jess Watkin
All matches to be played at Brisbane's Allan Border Field
September 27: Second T20, 1:45pm AEST
September 30: Third T20, 1:45pm AEST
October 3: First ODI, 10:10am AEST
October 5: Second ODI, 10:10am AEST (11:10 AEDT)
October 7: Third ODI, 10:10am AEST (11:10 AEDT)
Watch live on the Seven Network, Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports