Ireland tri-series 2022 – Ashleigh Gardner ready to embrace new bowling challenge

Ashleigh Gardner is working on a new role with the ball ahead of the Commonwealth Games which could see her take on greater responsibility within the powerplay.

While not uncharted territory for offspinner Gardner – she did it with some success against India last season including removing Shafali Verma twice in three matches – it may now become a more regular task in Australia’s T20I side to operate inside the fielding restrictions.

Gardner had a taste of it in the washed-out opening tri-series match against Pakistan in Bready where she bounced back from seeing her first two deliveries taken for four by Iram Javed to claim two wickets, the left-handed pair of Bismah Maroof and Muneeba Ali.

“It’s nice to be playing a different role,” she said. “I generally don’t bowl those powerplay overs and it’s something that’s been spoken about and something I’m really excited to do. It’s an awesome challenge. Only bowling with two [fielders] out is quite difficult at times.

“They [the coaching staff] alluded to it at the start of the series and even through my role clarity meetings that it was something I should wrap my head around. There’s always plenty of left-handers at the top of the order as well, so that being a genuine match-up.

“[It’s] just being aware of that and comfortable doing it because it is a different role, people are going harder at the top of the order and you only have the two out for protection so it’s about being really clear on where you want to get hit.”

In the second game against Ireland, against a top order compiled of right-handers, Gardner returned to operating in the middle of the innings, delivering three overs between the 10th and 16th, but can expect another chance in the powerplay before the series finishes.

Across the first two matches of the series, Australia’s standout bowler has been legspinner Alana King who has bagged the remarkable figures of 5-0-17-6 and was player of the match against Ireland with opposition batters struggling to read her.

“She’s one of those legspinners who bowls quite quick and quite flat, but does turn the ball as well, so she’s a handful when facing her,” Gardner said. “We’ve played quite a lot against her so we know the cues, but in saying that because she does bowl that little bit quicker you don’t have those cues all the time. When you get caught up is when you probably try and play it off the wicket. You really do need to hone in on her hand. It’s more the slider that’s her biggest weapon and the one she does try to rip is also really effective.”

Australia have two matches of the tri-series remaining before they travel across to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games and so far, due to the rained-out game and a nine-wicket win, only three batters have had time in the middle but Gardner is relaxed if she does get a hit in the coming days.

“If we keep our batting order the same to what we usually use I think that will be most beneficial to get those people plenty of time in the middle and then really utilise training to get the other batters a hit,” she said. “We have to face all our bowlers in the nets, so think that is a challenge in itself. If we do get a hit over these next two games, great, but if not we’ve got some really good facilities and great bowlers and coaches.”

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