Ash Gardner is looking to win her second-consecutive WBBL Player of the Tournament award (Photo: sydneysixers.com.au/Design: Theo Dimou)

Ashleigh Gardner might have taken home the Belinda Clark Award in 2022, but she believes the last 12 months has been the most consistent patch of her career.

The all-rounder impressed with the bat and ball in WBBL|08, en route to being crowned Player of the Tournament. Gardner was the eighth-highest run scorer for the tournament with 339 runs and claimed 23 scalps, which was the third-most in the competition. 

Her heroics wouldn’t result in team success however, as the Sydney Sixers lost in the final to the Adelaide Strikers by 10 runs.

Gardner says that while it would be nice to take home the individual accolade again in WBBL|09, she wants the team to be competing for the title as well. 

“If I could try and replicate what I did last year that would be fantastic, but I think for me it’s thinking more from a team perspective. Ultimately if I’m playing well as an individual, hopefully the team is in winning positions as well,” Gardner told The Inner Sanctum.

“I feel like I’m in a good spot at the moment so hopefully I can translate what happened last year into [WBBL|09].”

Along with Gardner, big seasons will also be needed from Sixers stalemates Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry. The trio have worn magenta since the competition began in 2015 and have since tried to make it a destination club.

“It’s huge to try and keep the core group together. For us three we’ve obviously been there from the start so it’s nice to have a bit of sameness throughout,” Gardner said.

“It’s making sure that we’re creating an environment where players want to play, and I think that’s what we’ve done in the last couple of years. Players want to come and play for the Sixers.”

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The 26-year-old isn’t just experiencing a purple patch at domestic level. Figures of 8/66 in the second innings of the sole Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in June forced the record books to be rewritten.

Boasting match figures of 12/165, Gardner now holds the best haul in a match by an Australian woman in Test history and the second-best ever in women’s Tests.

The right-hander says that she is finally starting to string multiple quality games together. 

“I just have to take the confidence I built throughout this last little period. [The last 12 months or so] is probably the most consistent I’ve been and it’s the consistency that I’ve been searching for quite a while which I think naturally comes with age,” she said. 

Gardner’s match-winning performance was enough for the Aussies to reclaim the Ashes; however, they were unable to secure the urn outright as England won both the T20 and ODI components to level the overall series.

The middle-order batter says that the recent Ashes is a sign that teams are becoming more competitive. 

“Things are changing, and teams are starting to get better. There are boards around the world who are putting their money into their female space and ultimately the girls are going to get better because they’ve got more time to be able to [work on] their craft,” she said.  

“I think we saw that in the Ashes, they really tested us. We came home with the Ashes, but we certainly didn’t play the best cricket we could of.

“I think that’s exciting though because that means we start to think differently and to start changing a few things [in regards] to the way we operate as a side. It’s scary but it’s also exciting I guess to see where we can get to because I think we were a little off the mark this year.

“We’ve got such a big summer ahead where I feel we can really change.”

The key to Australia staying ahead of the pack will be to fast-track the development of their younger stars and Gardner says there are two youngsters who have already taken their game to the next level. 

Annabel Sutherland has had one of her best summers and I guess that stems back from state cricket as well. It was really pleasing to see her translate that across,” she said. 

Phoebe Litchfield is [also] a really exciting prospect. I’m super pumped to see where she fits over these next few years. Players like that I think will really relish in that environment because we’ve got so much experience around us and it’s only going to help their careers.”

The Sydney Sixers will open their WBBL|09 campaign against the Melbourne Stars at North Sydney Oval tonight.

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