Ashleigh Gardner in line for Australia debut
In a season of breakthroughs for women's cricket in Australia, Ashleigh Gardner is set to become the latest by becoming the first indigenous cricketer to debut for Australia women since the pioneering figure of Faith Thomas started out all of 59 years ago.
Gardner's barnstorming displays with the bat for the Sydney Sixers - she scored 414 runs in 16 matches with three fifties - have earned her a spot in the squad for both the Twenty20 and 50-over matches to be played against New Zealand women over the next month. More pointedly, they offer her a chance to earn selection in the squad for the World Cup, due to be played in England later this year.
Australia's captain Meg Lanning was delighted by the 19-year-old's selection, having seen her destructive potential up close during the Women's Big Bash League. "It's great to see, a big step for her but she's really deserved it," Lanning said. "She's come of age I guess in the last 12 months and really dominated, which is what we want to see.
"She'll fit into the group really well, a great kid, so looking forward to having her around and hopefully she can take her opportunity. Consistency takes time, you come in and make a few scores but it's about being consistent and she's done that throughout.
"She's often come in to bat under pressure during the WBBL after a few wickets have gone down early, and she plays her own game, players to her strengths and takes the game on, which exactly what we want in the side. She's played some outrageous shots in innings throughout the WBBL, so it's exciting to see young girls coming through and putting up their hand at state level and being rewarded."
A hamstring strain means that Ellyse Perry will be unavailable for the T20 matches but Lanning said she was hopeful of a return in time for the Rose Bowl 50-over series. "Having Ellyse Perry missing for the T20s isn't ideal but it gives an opportunity to someone else coming through," Lanning said.
"We're getting closer to the side we want to have for the World Cup, but there's still opportunities for everyone to impress. It's a very important series against New Zealand and we're looking forward to the challenge because we know they're a very good team.
"We'll just have to see how she's tracking, it's disappointing for her to miss out but once she's fit she'll come back in and we know what a special player she is. You've just got to adapt to these things and do the best you can."
The transition from T20 to 50-over cricket is something Lanning and her team will have to make over the next few weeks, having experienced a glut of the shortest form via the WBBL but now needing to refocus ahead of their defence of the World Cup. "It's mostly about patience with bat and ball," she said.
"Even in T20 cricket you've got more time than you think, so one-dayers tend to drag on a bit now we played so many T20s. It's just really knowing your game plan and what suits your team and individuals and having the patience and really just backing yourself. We've been in good form in one-dayers of the last couple of years so it's really important that we become really consistent with it."
New Zealand will travel to Australia for three T20Is, which will be played between February 17 and 22 in Melbourne, South Geelong and Adelaide. Australia will then visit New Zealand for three ODIs, in Mount Maunganui, between February 26 and March 5.