Ash Gardner: The learning and maturation of cricket’s next big star
The older Ashleigh Gardner gets, the more cricket seems to make sense.
Not the mechanics of it - you bowl, you bat and you field but it’s the mind games that go along with the game that she’s starting to really wrap her head around.
“Cricket is such a funny game,” the Aussie all-rounder mused.
“You can have as much confidence as you want, but there’s always that one game that can potentially bring that down.
“That’s the beauty of cricket: you’re never going to be perfect.”
It’s hard to believe that Gardner is still only 24 but it is her growing sense of self has Gardner shaping up as the heir apparent to skipper Meg Lanning.
It’s been an incredible journey for shy teenager who entered the national team environment six years ago, becoming the first Indigenous woman to play for Australia since 1958.
But with the help of mentors including teammates Rachael Haynes and Ellyse Perry, Gardner - whose heritage is Muruwari from northern NSW - has matured as a player and person.
“You’re always striving to learn or always striving to be better at certain skills and in saying that, it can be quite a hard game mentally,” she said.
“It’s about being resilient in those times and have hard conversations with yourself or with other people about your game and how you can keep improving.”
Gardner spent the pre-season training alone as her Sydney suburb was thrown into lockdown.
It was difficult, she admits, to watch her teammates all working together, while she was struggling just to get down to the local nets with her brother and have a training session.
“That was pretty challenging, probably from a mental side of things, because you’re the motivator rather than going to training and have other people motivate you,” she said.
”With the lockdown, everything was getting really monotonous, I was finding that I was getting annoyed more easily than normal.
“I’d seen people on my social media talking about mediating and a couple of my good mates who also play cricket had used it and still use it and I thought, ‘Why not? I may as well give it a shot’.”
Gardner is now practising meditation daily.
“I feel like it’s something that I enjoy doing … and if I feel like if I am getting annoyed at some point, I know that’s the time to then do it to ease my mind or whatever it is.
“I’m hoping that through game time, if I do have a bad game or a bad session, I can use that as a mechanism to calm down.
“I’ve also started doing journalling and I feel like that’s another mechanism I haven’t done in the past, which I think could really help on tour or just in life in general.
“I just write generally before lunchtime, about my feelings or how I wake up in the mornings, it’s obviously varied every day.
“Some days I wake up in a really bad mood (in quarantine) and I don’t really want to do much.
“I was reading it back just before, and just reading the emotions and feelings that I’d written down has been interesting, but I think it’s a cool way to get things off your chest.”
Gardner went into hotel quarantine in preparation for the series against India with trepidation, having found a stint in quarantine in New Zealand earlier this year difficult despite having permission to train outdoors.
“This is the first hard hotel quarantine I’ve done … and coming in here, I knew that I had to change my thinking,” she said.
She continued to paint in her traditional Aboriginal dot style – something she started during the initial Covid lockdowns early last year – and then explored her new mindfulness techniques.
At 24 Gardner is still young. But having debuted in the green and gold in 2017 she’s now among the emerging new leaders in the squad.
“I guess I am still only 24, so in the scheme of things I’m still pretty young, in saying that, I’ve played quite a few games for Australia and I have that experience on my side,” she said.
She’s paid very close attention to her current captain Lanning, and vice-captain Haynes, and learnt what she can from them both on and off the field.
“You can pick their brains of what they like to do or what they think works throughout games … off-field it’s about having conversations about leadership, or if they see you as a leader in the future and what things you can get better at.
“Obviously talking to coaches, it’s all about having conversations.”
Third ODI: Australia v India, Great Barrier Reef Arena, Mackay, 10.05amALL Games live on Fox Cricket
Originally published as Ash Gardner: The learning and maturation of cricket’s next big star
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