Ash Gardner coming up big at the right time in WPL
Ash Gardner has been left celebrating the sort of matchwinning display with both bat and ball that prompted Gujarat Giants to make her the joint best-paid overseas player in India's Women's Premier League.
The Australian star hammered her first fifty of the tournament and followed up with 2-19, capped by the wicket that finally sealed her side's 11-run victory over Meg Lanning's Delhi Capitals in Mumbai on Thursday.
It was an indication that, after some up-and-down displays featuring a couple of golden ducks, Gardner, at just the right time, appears to be really discovering the form that's made her the world's top-ranked T20 allrounder.
Along with England allrounder Nat Sciver-Brunt, Gardner proved the biggest overseas attraction at the WPL auction as both were snapped up for the huge sum of $558,000 apiece.
"It's probably the game that I've been searching for to be honest," admitted Gardner after picking up the player of the match award in her sixth game.
"I feel like I've been pretty inconsistent so far through this tournament so to put my team in a winning position with the bat and then bowling well, it was a pretty clinical performance, which was pleasing."
Gardner hadn't made more than 25 in any of her previous five innings but with Gujarat struggling at 2-53 at almost halfway, her partnership of 81 with Laura Wolvaardt (57 off 45 balls) helped Gujarat get to a challenging 4-147.
The Sydneysider's 51no came off just 33 balls and featured nine boundaries, while her Australian national teammate Jess Jonassen took 2-38 off her four overs for Delhi.
When Delhi batted, Lanning, the tournament's top scorer, was trapped lbw for 18 playing across the line by her opposing captain Sneh Rana as the tournament's second most successful team began to stutter.
Another Australian star, pace bowler Kim Garth kept the pressure on for Gujarat with excellent figures of 2-18 off her four overs while Gardner, finding significant turn with her off-breaks, came up big in the death overs, finally getting Delhi's No.11 Poonam Yadav caught at midwicket with eight balls left.
Asked if she'd enjoyed the more spin-friendly conditions now coming into play at Brabourne Stadium, Gardner said: "Absolutely. As the tournament's gone on, spin has played a bigger part.
"At the start, the ball wasn't turning at all but now the wickets have been used, it's slower off the wicket and there's a little bit of purchase for spin."
Her Gujarat side, who lost their Australian captain Beth Mooney to injury in the first match of the tournament, can now still qualify as one of the three teams to make the playoffs, lying fourth on four points after six games, the same tally as Alyssa Healy's third-placed UP Warriorz.
Lanning's Delhi are still second on eight points after six while Mumbai Indians are unbeaten on 10 points after five.