Ashleigh Gardner’s new-found maturity has paved the way for her to become the first Indigenous player to claim one of Australian cricket’s top honours.
- Ashleigh Gardner picked up 54 votes during the award period, to finish clear Beth Mooney (47) and Alyssa Healy (39)
- Mitchell Starc became just the fifth bowler to win Australian cricket’s top gong, after Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Pat Cummins
- Starc claimed the award by one vote over Mitch Marsh
Gardner was on Saturday named winner of the Belinda Clark Award, crowning her as Australia’s best female player for the past 12 months.
The off-spinning allrounder was told by Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley of her award on Friday night, admitting she asked him more than once if he had the right person.
But Gardner’s growth over the past year means she is a more than deserving recipient.
The 24-year-old found consistency in 2021, going from a big hitter to solid performer with 281 runs at 35.1 across all formats in the past year.
She scored four half-centuries in that time, highlighted by an unbeaten 73 in a successful T20 chase in New Zealand in March.
Gardner also produced her maiden Test half-century, against India, before backing it up against England in the Ashes match in Canberra.
“I’ve certainly grown up both on and off the field,” Gardner said.
“I think maturing off the field probably has an impact on my game on the field.
“To have or to score my first ever half-century in a Test match was really special and I guess that did show a lot more maturity in my game.”
Adding to Gardner’s improvement, she was in the team’s top-five run-scorers and top-three wicket-takers in each of the three formats.
Her nine wickets in the voting period were second-most behind only Sophie Molineux.
Gardner picked up 54 votes during the award period, to finish clear Beth Mooney (47) and Alyssa Healy (39).
Healy won Australia’s one-day player of the year, while Mooney claimed the T20 honour.
Gardner’s honour, meanwhile, comes just a month after fellow Indigenous star Scott Boland won the Johnny Mullagh Medal on Test debut at the MCG.
The pair are two of only four Indigenous Australians to have played Test cricket for the country, with Gardner now the first to receive a major award.
Gardner has previously spoken of how she used her time off during the pandemic to closer connect to her mother’s heritage.
“To be the first-ever First Nations person to have won this award is super special for not only me but for my family and for my people as well.”
Critics no worry for AB Medal winner Starc
Mitchell Starc has silenced the critics he learned long ago not to listen to in winning his maiden Allan Border Medal.
Starc became just the fifth bowler to win Australian cricket’s top gong, after Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Pat Cummins.
Starc’s prize will make the biggest dent on social media critics and oft-quoted former players.
Starc made a tongue-in-cheek reference in his acceptance speech to Shane Warne labelling his first-ball wicket of the Ashes being a “half-volley on leg stump”.
Warne’s comments around Starc and his selection have long made headlines, and often drawn quick retorts by Healy.
But the man himself has benefited most from putting the blinkers on when it comes to criticism in recent years, with results showing on the field.
“A couple of years ago I made that decision to get away from it all … not pay any attention to it.
“I’ve got a wife who plays at the highest level and I’ve got a couple of my closest mates who play international cricket.
“So I’ve got a pretty good sounding board in that regard.
“That’s helped me stay level through some really good stuff and some not-so-good stuff.”
It’s also helped Starc be more level on the field.
This summer was by far his most consistent, taking 19 wickets at 25.36 while shouldering more responsibility with Josh Hazelwood missing most of the Ashes.
It prompted him to tighten the screws at times while still keeping his wicket-taking strike rate, stepping up in the Adelaide Test and a West Indies one-day series which Cummins missed.
“At times I’ve certainly bowled better or had better spells than I may have throughout this summer,” Starc said.
“But it was perhaps one of my more consistent series.
“Whether it be outside opinions of that or opinions I’ve had of myself, that’s always been one that I’ve wanted to be better at.”
Starc claimed the award by one vote over Mitch Marsh, who didn’t play a Test but won the T20 player-of-the-year award.
Travis Head finished third in the count, adding the Test player-of-the-year award to his domestic crown.
Belinda Clark Award — Ashleigh Gardner
Allan Border Medal — Mitchell Starc
Female ODI Player of the Year — Alyssa Healy
Female T20I Player of the Year — Beth Mooney
Male Test Player of the Year — Travis Head
Male ODI Player of the Year — Mitchell Starc
Male T20I Player of the Year — Mitch Marsh
Community Champion Award — Zoe Cooke