Australia stalwart Ashleigh Gardner has told the 100% Cricket podcast she is looking forward to watching the young guns in action at the ICC Women's U19 T20 World Cup, and she has also shared her experiences of playing in front of big crowds in India and the legacy she wants to leave on the game.
Sixteen teams will fight it out in the inaugural edition of the ICC Women's U19 T20 World Cup at the start of 2023 in South Africa. The tournament will see 41 matches played at three different venues and Gardner is excited to witness some of the best young talent in the women's game showcase their craft and skills.
Speaking to Nasser Hussain and Frankie Mackay on the 100% Cricket Podcast, Gardner stated she would have loved to have played in such a tournament and had that level of exposure at a young age.
"We were actually talking about that the other day," she said of a chat in her team camp in India.
"It was myself and (teammate) Heather Graham, who are at similar ages and we would have loved to have played in an U19 World Cup as we thought we would have been very good.
"But yeah, obviously it’s fantastic for those young players to have something to strive for (now)."
Elaborating on how it will help to develop the game, Gardner added: "In Australia, we have the U19s and U17s Championships to have something to strive for – to play for your country at quite a young age and in a world tournament is fantastic to see and also really that's going to grow our game globally as well."
Gardner is currently in the middle of a five-match T20I tour of India, with Australia having taken an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series. The matches so far between the two sides have witnessed some nail-biting contests, with the crowd turning up in large numbers at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai and the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.
The second match at the DY Patil Stadium saw an attendance of more than 45,000 people – the highest for a women's match in India.
Gardner spoke about her experiences of playing in front of such massive crowds, describing it as 'exciting'.
Speaking on the women's game taking off in India, Gardner said: "It's so exciting to see! The other night, we had 45,000 people at DY Patil Stadium and to play in front of so many people was pretty special.
“That's the second-largest crowd that I've ever played in front of and, as you know, India fans are very fanatical and quite loud. So yeah, it felt like there was about 90,000 there."
Gardner also added that it was challenging, in particular, to get used to the noise levels of the Indian fans.
"It does take quite a while to get used to," she said.
"Sometimes you feel like you are under the pump because obviously the crowd isn't on your side, so they are hitting dots and there's ones and twos that you actually think are boundaries being hit or they are right on top of the game.
"So we try to take the emotion out of that, knowing that they are going to be supporting the other side and being okay with that. So it's probably not listening to the crowd too much even though obviously it is very loud."
Since her debut in 2017, Gardner has established herself as a cornerstone of Australian women's cricket, with her exploits with both the bat and the ball. Her performances have seen her contribute to Australia winning the T20 World Cup 2022, the Cricket World Cup 2022 and the Commonwealth Games 2022 Gold Medal and she has also been nominated as an ICC 100% Cricket Superstar.
But despite her exploits on the field, it is off the field that Gardner wants to leave a profound impact.
Gardner is also very proud of being a role model to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia and it is a major motivation for her.
“It's huge and for me it's a big driver for what I'm doing as a cricketer and ultimately, as a person,” said Gardner, when reflecting on the legacy she wants to leave behind.
"Because cricket only ever lasts so long in your life. So I guess you've got to think about what you're going to do after your cricketing career and for me it's trying to leave a legacy for Indigenous kids to play cricket and to live a really healthy lifestyle.
"So, for me, that's bigger than cricket. So yeah, it's exciting to use my platform to spread messages and to try to bring my team along as well with me."