Rising Sydney Sixers star Ashleigh Gardner should probably keep her phone close at hand over the coming days.
The off-spinning allrounder has been a revelation throughout the second edition of the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League and it came as no surprise when she was on Saturday named the Rebel Young Player of the Tournament.
Gardner scored 414 runs at 27.60 for the tournament – only Australian stars Meg Lanning, Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy and Elyse Villani compiled more runs – and took 10 wickets, receiving a $5000 prize and career development program from Rebel for her efforts.
Now, it seems all but certain the 19-year-old from Sydney will receive her first international call-up when the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars squad to take on New Zealand in February is announced this week.
Gardner has long been earmarked for great things. She has been part of Australia’s development squad, the Shooting Stars, since early 2015 and captained Australia’s first ever women's indigenous side on a tour of India last April.
She carried her good form into the 2016-17 Women’s National Cricket League, where she was particularly impressive with the ball.
But it’s her emergence as a powerful force at the top of the Sixers’ batting order during WBBL|02 that has indicated she’s ready for the highest level.
At the end of the regular season, Gardner sat third on the overall runs tally behind only world No.1 batter Meg Lanning and fellow Australia batter Beth Mooney.
Heading into the final was equal top of the six-scoring charts alongside New Zealand superstar Sophie Devine, having cleared the ropes on 13 occasions – at one point sending a ball clear out of North Sydney Oval, while her WBBL|02 runs came at the impressive strike rate of 114.68.
With the ball, Gardner collected eight wickets at 28.25 during the regular season, but stepped up when it counted in the semi-final, capturing 2-9 and snaring a brilliant one-handed return catch.
Speaking to bigbash.com.au, Gardner put her breakthrough summer down to the hard yards she put in during the off-season.
“I really honed in on what I wasn’t doing right, the technical stuff and that’s probably what’s really helped me this season,” Gardner said.
“Every batter wants to be more consistent and that’s what I tried to do this year and it’s paid off.”
Gardner played down her chances of being included in the squad to meet New Zealand in three T20s and three ODIs next month, but said if the opportunity did come along, she would grab it “with both hands”.
“It’s always hard to get in a team like that, so being in would be a massive honour.
“If I ever make that level I’ll take it with both hands. To bowl with the likes of Jess Jonassen and the other spinners in team, I’d try and do whatever I could to plant my spot in the team.
“I have to work really hard before I even get selected in a team like that … but it’s my childhood dream to play for Australia.”
While Gardner isn’t so certain she’ll receive that call next week, Sixers stand-in skipper Alyssa Healy is far more optimistic.
"She's probably been the most in form batter of this whole tournament," Healy said following the WBBL semi-final.
"I wouldn't be too surprised if she gets a phone call in a couple of days to play New Zealand.
"I hope she does get that opportunity, she's come a long way in the last 12 months."
“She just proved she's ready for the big time."
Southern Stars coach – and selector - Matthew Mott is another who has been seriously impressed by the teenager.
“There’s no doubt Ashleigh’s put a good case forward,” Mott told bigbash.com.au.
“I thought she had a better impact with the ball in the WNCL but we rate her bowling really highly as well.
“Her impact with the bat for the Sixers has been exceptional, really, she’s contributed in a lot of games and she’s exciting to watch.”