Sydney all-rounder Ashleigh Gardner will become just the second Indigenous woman to play cricket for her country and the first in 59 years when she debuts against New Zealand in February.
Fresh from winning the women’s Big Bash League with the Sydney Sixers, Gardner follows in the footsteps of lightning quick bowler Faith Thomas (nee Coulthard) who in 1958 became the first Aboriginal woman to represent her country in the sporting arena.
Selectors simply couldn’t ignore the 19-year-old who pummeled 414 runs throughout the WBBL including an equal high 13 sixes, to go with her 10 wickets. They’ve picked her in the T20 squad for the home series against New Zealand, and the one-day international squad for the three-match tour of New Zealand that follows – an ideal platform to display her credentials for the Women’s World Cup later this year.
Much has changed in the time since Thomas travelled by ship to Britain to make her sole international appearance for , and the significance of her selection is not lost on Gardner.
“She has told me a couple of stories that she had to give up her nursing career to play for ,” Gardner said of her few meetings with Thomas.
“They obviously had to pay quite a lot of money to go overseas, that was one of the reasons why she stopped playing cricket because she couldn’t afford to travel overseas.
“She told me a story that she bowled out one of the best batsmen in the world, and snapped his middle stump. I think she was quite quick back in the day.”
Gardner was born to parents Katherine and James in Bankstown 19 years ago, some four decades after Thomas blazed her Indigenous sporting trail.
Katherine is of the Muruwari people, centred around Brewarrina in central north NSW while James’ ancestry is English.
Fittingly, Gardner will prepare for her impending n debut in Alice Springs next week at the Imparja Cup, an annual Indigenous cricket tournament.
She’s been told by the Southern Stars coaching staff to play as much cricket as possible in order to prepare for the T20 series against New Zealand, which begins on February 17 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
“The only time I get to really experience it [Aboriginal culture] is when I go up to Imparja Cup where we get to visit communities in Alice Springs,” Gardner said.
“Hopefully in the next couple of years I’ll be able to experience that a lot more.
“It’s a massive honour to be named in the [n] side. Not just my immediate family but the Indigenous community as a whole, it just sends a message I guess that there’s no barriers any more, there’s no stereotypes that Indigenous people can’t represent their country in any sport that they choose.
“Hopefully I’m seen as a role model to young Indigenous kids that if they put their mind to something, they can definitely achieve whatever they’re determined to achieve.
“It’s only going to get bigger and better from here, they’ve put more money into Indigenous cricket, hopefully in the next couple of years you’ll see a lot more male and females hopefully representing their countries.”
squad: Meg Lanning (c), Kristen Beams, Alex Blackwell, Nicole Bolton (one-day series only), Lauren Cheatle, Rene Farrell, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry (one-day series only pending fitness), Megan Schutt, Molly Strano (Twenty20 series only), Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington
v New Zealand T20s February 17: MCG, Melbourne, 2.05pm AEDT February 19: Kardinia Park, Geelong, 2.35pm AEDT February 22: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, 2.05pm AEDT
v New Zealand ODIs February 26: Eden Park No.2, Auckland, 9am AEDT March 2: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, 9am AEDT March 5: Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, 9am AEDT