As Australia seeks to stay ahead of the pack and continue pushing the envelope of T20 cricket, this Commonwealth Games may have already unlocked a “pretty scary” combination to make that ambition a reality.
The heroes of the world champs’ first-up win at the event were Ashleigh Gardner and Grace Harris, the former scoring her fifth T20I half-century and the latter playing her first T20I innings since March 2016.
For an extended period, Gardner’s presence in the Australian XI had played a significant role in keeping Grace Harris out of it, given their similarities as powerful allrounders who bat right-handed and bowl off-spin.
But now there is room for both in the same side, and they have already combined to make a significant impact, with their match-winning partnership that rescued Australia from 5-49 against India in their opening Group A game.
Going forward, the opportunities they create for an Australian side determined to push for totals of 200 or above has Australia chief selector Shawn Flegler excited.
“That was pretty awesome to watch (Gardner and Harris batting against India),” Flegler told cricket.com.au.
“Two of the hardest hitters in world cricket, I reckon, going round.
“It’s pretty scary if you’re a bowler and you’re seeing those two come out.
“We see it day-in, day-out at training, how hard they hit the ball, and … if you’re fielding in the inner circle and you’re getting balls whacked at you that hard, it can be really intimidating.
“So (having both) is a luxury that we’ve got, and we’ll keep playing that card for a while.”
Gardner made her international debut in early 2017, called up after a breakout WBBL campaign for the Sydney Sixers.
Her big-hitting potential was always there, but the 25-year-old is increasingly better equipped to deploy it consistently and under pressure, while her off-spin has equally developed into a weapon Australia can use in the power play as well as to squeeze the opposition through the middle overs.
“Unbelievable, really, and just shows the maturity of her game over the last couple of years as well,” Flegler said of her unbeaten 52 against India.
“She’s been maturing on the ground, as well as off the ground.
“We’ve backed Ash quite a bit early on, I think we probably picked her ahead of time … but we saw things that we liked.
“We’ve been pretty patient with her and innings like (the one against India), they don’t come easy.
“She’s put a lot of hard work into her game over the last few years. It’s time and opportunity.
“It’s tough to get opportunities at an international level when you’re batting behind a strong line-up as well.
“So a lot of credit goes to her for the work she’s put in over a long time.”
Much like Gardner, Harris’ potential was spotted early and she made her T20I debut against Ireland in mid-2015, a month before she turned 22.
But injury and form – and the emergence of Gardner – conspired to see Harris fall away from the national side, only returning at the start of this year when Beth Mooney fractured her jaw days out from the start of the Ashes.
“We saw something in her way back then in 2015, when she went on the Ashes (and Ireland) tour, we thought she could dominate the game (with) the way she hits the ball, and bowls, and she’s great in the field ,” Flegler continued.
“She’s just been starved of opportunity over the last few years.
“But again, she’s matured – (although) she’s still kept being Grace, which is brilliant – and a lot of credit goes to Queensland Cricket for the way they’ve developed her batting up and down the order.
“It’s been bloody hard to get into this Australian line-up so for her to come out and do that (against India) … she’s done it in domestic cricket for a number of years now, so it’s probably just that confidence to go , ‘Well, same bowlers I face in the WBBL and all that, so I’ll just go and whack them’.”
2022 Commonwealth Games
Australia’s squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Amanda- Jade Wellington
See all the Commonwealth Games cricket squads here
Group A: Australia, India, Pakistan, Barbados
Group B: England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka
July 29: Australia beat India by three wickets
July 31: Australia beat Barbados by nine wickets
August 3: Australia beat Pakistan by 44 runs
Semi-finals: August 6
England v India, 11am local (8pm AEST)
Australia v New Zealand, 6pm local (3am Aug 7 AEST)
Bronze medal match: August 7, 10am local (7pm AEST)
Gold medal match: August 7, 5pm local (2am Aug 8 AEST)
All matches played at Edgbaston Stadium