‘You can find yourself in some pretty dark places when you aren’t in the best form,’ says Australia’s Female Cricketer of the Year Ashleigh Gardner

Australia all-rounder Ashleigh Gardner, who was named winner of the Belinda Clark Award on Saturday, said that becoming a mature person off the field has had an impact on her on-field performances. Winning the award made the 24-year-old the first Indigenous player to be named Australia’s best female cricketer based on performances in the past 12 months.

“I’ve certainly grown up both on and off the field. I think maturing off the field probably has an impact on my game on the field. I feel really comfortable within this side. I’ve known what my role has been and I’ve been really clear in the direction that I need to do with either bat or ball in hand,” Gardner was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.

Gardner’s performances for Australia were impressive, scoring 281 runs, including four half-centuries in ten innings at an average of 35.1 and taking nine wickets across all formats. But it was her bounceback after a lean Women’s Big Bash League season, making just 197 runs in 12 innings, including four consecutive ducks.

A trip to Australia’s sports psychologist and a break after the WBBL ended helped Gardner bounce back with a 57 in the first innings and 1/27 with the ball in the ongoing lone Test of the Women’s Ashes at Manuka Oval.

“You can find yourself in some pretty dark places when you aren’t in the best form. And that was certainly me. I can openly admit that my mental health probably wasn’t great. But I think it’s good for people’s careers to go on that slight decline to then actually find the confidence again and find the rhythm back in your batting.”

Gardner admitted that she was nervous about going into the women’s Ashes. “Being able to go back into the (NSW) Breakers set up around a different bunch of girls was really instrumental to actually feel confident again. I was certainly really nervous going into this series (but) having the backing of all my teammates, and all the staff was really important to (help) find that confidence.”

With the women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand coming after the women’s Ashes, Gardner hopes the learnings from challenges in the last few months will keep her in good stead.

“It’s always challenging. This next little period is going to be another stint away from home. But I’m lucky to have my partner on tour with me this time, to keep me grounded and (to spend time with) off the field as well, rather than just thinking about cricket 24/7 — I think that’s the most important thing.

“Everything’s a lesson in a way and it wasn’t fantastic at the time, what I was going through, but just knowing that that was such a challenge and knowing the things that I can overcome (is helpful),” she concluded.

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