Aussie teammates have thrown their support behind Indigenous cricket star Ash Gardner after the 25-year-old was abused online for her stance on January 26. The women's cricket star questioned Cricket Australia's decision to schedule a T20 international on 'Australia Day', describing it as a "day of hurt and mourning" for the Indigenous population.
Australia will take on Pakistan in a women's T20 on 'Australia Day', but the scheduling has sparked backlash from the players. Gardner, who was the second Indigenous woman to play Test cricket for Australia, has found herself the target of online trolls after admitting that playing on the divisive Australian public holiday does not sit well with her.
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"My culture is something I hold close to my heart and something I’m always so proud to speak about whenever asked," Gardner tweeted on Sunday. "Unfortunately this year the Australian women's cricket team has been scheduled to play a game on the 26th of Jan which certainly doesn't sit well with me as an individual but also all the people I'm representing."
Gardner said she was keen to use her profile as a professional cricketer to help educate others as to the connotations of the day. She wrote: "For those who don't have a good understanding of what that day means it was the beginning of genocide, massacres and dispossession. When I take the field for this game I will certainly be reflecting and thinking about all of my ancestors and peoples' lives who changed from this day."
Gardner's teammates say the star allrounder has coped well with the online abuse she's copped in the wake of her January 26 stance. While Gardner and the rest of the players have made it clear they are willing to take part in Thursday's fixture, they're united in support of the Aussie's stance.
"She's been great," teammate Megan Schutt said. "She wears her heart on her sleeve, but she is just someone who gets the job done. I've checked in via text and she has been great. She's a tough little cookie."
Gardner was a dominant force in Tuesday's series-opening win against Pakistan, hitting three boundaries and a six in her unbeaten 30 from 19 balls. The Aussie women won by eight wickets in a commanding performance at North Sydney Oval.
According to reports, an Indigenous advisory committee approved the decision to play the fixture in Hobart on January 26. The committee consults with Cricket Australia as part of its Reconciliation Action Plan.
Hopes January 26 match will help educate Australians
The match is the second in a three T20 series against Pakistan. The Aussie team is set to perform a barefoot walk and a smoking ceremony before the match and wear a special Indigenous-themed jerseys, socks and wristbands in a bid to celebrate Australia's First Nations people.
Cricket Australia were originally set to go without an elite match on January 26 for the first time in 20 years this summer, with the second and third games in the women's series to be played in Canberra on the 27th and 29th. However the cancellation of the men's series against South Africa prompted the first of those games to be moved to Hobart.
There was the possibility of a Blundstone Arena clash if men's BBL side the Hobart Hurricanes finished fourth in the T20 competition, which in turn prompted the fixture to be moved to January 26. While player concerns around the date of the match were sounded out as early as September, it's hoped the game will act as an educational tool to help portray the Indigenous story about what January 26 means and the pain it causes to First Nations people.
Schutt said the controversy around the fixture would not serve as a distraction for the team once the game began. "We have had plenty of conversations in our own changerooms and behind closed doors," she said. "Out on the field nothing is going to change."
Australia have other potential on-field challenges, with Beth Mooney failing to bat in Tuesday's win over Pakistan, having pulled up sore after a busy one-day international series that saw her open the batting and fill in with the gloves.
Australia do not have another wicketkeeper in the squad with Alyssa Healy injured, while the likely next option in line Georgia Redmayne is also out with a ruptured achilles tendon. The uncapped Tahlia Wilson would likely be the next option in domestic cricket, with Victorian Nicole Faltum an alternative.
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