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Match Analysis

Gardner learns from mistakes to put on a match-winning show

The allrounder's 27-ball 42 helped Australia out of trouble before her three-run 18th over set up the win

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
Remember the kid from your school days who used to prepare for the exam up until the moment you were asked to put your books and bags away?
Ashleigh Gardner was seen taking throwdowns beside the boundary cushions even as the Australia openers were set to walk out in the fourth T20I against India. Gardner was perfecting her drives. She focused on getting her front foot to the pitch of the ball and getting her timing right, and managed to middle all of them.
In the third T20I, the first time Gardner had to bat in the series, she struggled to force the pace against Devika Vaidya's slow, loopy legbreaks. Eventually, she was done in by the lack of pace and was stumped trying to go big over the off side.
When she walked out to bat on Saturday, she was conscious about avoiding a repeat. Alyssa Healy had just walked off with a calf strain and Tahlia McGrath was dismissed soon after. Sensing Gardner's discomfort against slow bowlers, India used Radha Yadav, Shafali Verma and Vaidya for the next five overs.
Twice in two games, Gardner could bat in the middle with Ellyse Perry and the message from the veteran allrounder was pretty clear: hit through the ball.
"[That] might not make sense but it resonated with me," Gardner said after the game. "I was slow with my feet to the spin [in the previous match]. They bowled quite slow through the air. It's being able to trying to hit it on the full or have the mentality to hit it on the full. I was trying to get [to the pitch of the ball] quickly to give myself the chance to hit a four or a six."
The result? The eighth ball Gardner faced in the innings - just her second against Vaidya - she skipped down the track and smashed it straight over the bowler's head. She meted out similar treatment to Radha a few overs later, walloping her over long-on.
"I knew if I got there quick enough I could hit her [Vaidya] straight back over her head, which I was lucky enough to do," she said. "For people like Deepti [Sharma] who are really crafty spinners, it's about coming up with plans quicker. All our batters would say we need to come up with plans for her quicker."
Gardner attacked her way to a 27-ball 42, and added 94 for the third wicket with Perry. Their stand helped Australia change gears massively - they scored 118 in the last ten overs, with 48 coming in the last 20 balls after Gardner's dismissal. But it was Gardner's blitz that gave Perry and then Grace Harris the launchpad for the final assault, which eventually proved seven runs too many for India.
In quite a contrast to her six-hitting abilities, Gardner possesses the ability to be calm in tense situations. Case in point her match-turning 18th over in the chase. India needed 41 in the last three overs and had the dangerous Richa Ghosh batting on 19 off ten with a set Vaidya for company. In the second T20I, Ghosh had taken Gardner's offspin to the cleaners.
"I was probably clearer about the lengths I wanted to bowl," she said about her mindset this time. "It's pretty clear the lengths she [Ghosh] wants to hit and the ability she can hit sixes off the fuller lengths.
"I know as an offspinner to right-hand batters, they probably lick their lips when I come to bowl. If you just miss, it can go the journey."
On cue, Ghosh skied the first ball of the over but only for it to land in the vacant area around midwicket. Soon, Gardner deceived Vaidya to have her stumped. Her sequence in the over read: 1, W, 0, 1, 1, 0. Three runs. One wicket. Victory set up.
"I was just clear, I wanted the ball in my hand, and I was really confident in my ability to shut out that over," she said. "I was happy to not go for many runs but also to put my team in a really good position for the last two overs.
"I knew that even though they needed 40 [41] off the last three overs, the game was never out of hand. As a bowler, it's about having clear plans about what you need to execute. If that goes wrong, that's okay, and batters will have to hit good shots. But you have to be clear on what your plan is."
Much like that kid in your class who ends up topping the charts, Gardner's performance ensured Australia sealed the series. Perhaps the last-minute preparations are not all that bad.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo