Muruwari woman Ashleigh Gardner is hoping to inspire and be a role model for the next generation of indigenous cricketers. (Image: Ryan Pierse and Will Cuckson)

Belinda Clark Medallist and proud Muruwari woman Ash Gardner hopes that this summer of cricket has inspired aspiring First Nations cricketers.

For her performance in the first class, one day, and T20 formats, Ashleigh Gardner has become the first First Nations winner of the Belinda Clark Medal.

The award recognises the best female international cricketer across all formats.

“I never dreamt of ever winning this award. When I took the call I was in complete surprise,” Gardner said upon accepting the award.

“I’m still in shock. To be the first ever First Nations person to win this award is super special not only for me but for my family and my people too.

“It’s a peer voted award and to have my peers back me whether it’s with bat or ball means a lot.”

When fronting the media on Saturday evening, she attributed her award to the added maturity and confidence she has found this season and even seasons prior. Gardner has leaned on the help of her coaches to better find her role within the squad.

She also mentioned fellow Indigenous Australian fast bowler Scott Boland, praising the way he took his opportunity in the Test squad and to take it with both hands.

When mentioning Boland’s influence she said that it was great to see more First Nations people within cricket setting the example for younger Indigenous people who want to get into the sport.

Scott Boland celebrates with the Mullagh Medal after the third Ashes Test. (Photo: Cricket Aus)

“All I ever want to do when I go out with the ball or with the ball is to win for the team,” Gardner said.

“I think I’ve just been enjoying playing cricket for Australia.”

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In the last five games of the WBBL season, apart from a score of 86 not out against the Brisbane Heat, the Sydney Sixers star struggled immensely with her form. She ended the season with four consecutive scores of zero and one wicket within these games.

This was in contrast to the majority of her 96 WBBL matches to date, where Gardner has made over 1800 runs, with a high score of 114. A feature of her batting is her attacking nature, having hit 192 fours and 68 sixes. She is usually no slouch with the ball either, taking 42 wickets with best bowling figures of 2/7.

“No one wants to go through those patches and it’s important in your career, not to hit rock bottom but have form slumps and slight declines and to have to find your confidence again and find the rhythm again in your batting,” she explained.

“Cricket is such a funny game because it can be so mental, and you can find yourself in some pretty dark places when you are not in the best of form.

“I can admit my mental health probably wasn’t great at the end of the Big Bash, and just going forward into the WNCL season I wanted to take a lot of confidence out of that.

“When coming into this [Ashes] series, I was certainly nervous… but I think having the backing of my teammates and all the staff is really important as well.”

In 10 innings Gardner batted at an average of just over 35 and scored 281 runs. A knock of 73 not out against New Zealand in Hamilton for a T20 win was one of four half centuries for the classy all-rounder.

Finishing two shy of Sophie Molineux’s 11 wickets, her off-spin deliveries broke through for nine wickets in those 10 innings. She was a handy option for Australian selectors with her all-round capabilities extending to her fielding efforts.

Winning this award signifies the changing of the guard and the young crop of talent coming through.

Gardner finished above both Australian wicket-keeping batting options in Beth Mooney (47 votes) and Alyssa Healy (39 votes). She also won ahead of past winners captain Meg Lanning and star all-rounder Ellyse Perry, who won the years prior to Mooney’s win last year.

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