Australian cricket has its two new golden girls with Ashleigh Gardner and Tahlia McGrath’s rise to prominence highlighted in the WBBL final.
Gardner this week added the WBBL MVP award to her status as reigning Belinda Clark Medallist, with the Sydney Sixers all-rounder one of the most dangerous players in the game.
WATCH IN THE VIDEO ABOVE: Sixers star Ash Gardner on the WBBL final and the rise of women’s cricket.
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In the past two years she has struck at more than 100 for Australia in both white-ball formats and averaged 36.15, and also being the team’s third highest wicket-taker with 25.
She will loom as the Sixers’ X-factor, with her 85 from 48 last week against the Sydney Thunder demonstrating that Saturday’s venue in North Sydney Oval is far too small for her.
McGrath’s run is arguably better.
The Adelaide Strikers skipper was named as Australia’s new vice-captain for the tour of India following an incredible 18 months.
Out of the national team before last summer, McGrath is now a permanent fixture averaging 56.15 across all formats since.
Australia have for a long time had one of the most dependable cores in world cricket, with Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry leading the way.
But at a time where a changing of the guard looms, Gardner and McGrath sit at the front of it.
“The way Ash is putting together her cricket resume, she has already achieved so much, but she has a lot left to achieve too,” Perry said.
“But if you look around Australian cricket, there are that many superstars at the moment.
“Look at Tahlia last year and the 12 months she had.
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“Someone like Phoebe Litchfield who has been named in her first Australian team and just the incredible potential she is showing.”
Perry has seen Gardner develop since her teenage years at NSW, before watching her explode.
“That comes with continuing to mature and gaining more experience and learning about you game,” Perry said.
“It is very much just the start for her. It’s scary to think about how young she still is.”
Gardner is one of the reasons why the Sixers will enter Saturday’s final as favourites.
While they relied heavily on their marquee names such as Healy and Perry in early years, their bounce back has been built on wider contributions this summer.
They’ve also had a far easier run in than the Strikers, who were forced to take a 6am flight out of Adelaide on Friday to be in Sydney for the final, off just three hours sleep after Thursday’s win over Brisbane.
McGrath admitted later that it was “not ideal”, but was adamant nothing would stand in her team’s way after last year’s grand final disappointment against Perth.
“Losing a final is never easy,” McGrath said.
“We were pretty disappointed last year and we used that hunger to drive the whole season.
“We’re going out there with no fear, to play our best cricket, and we want that trophy pretty bad.”
How to watch the WBBL grand final
Coverage of the WBBL final will begin on Saturday from 5pm AEDT (4.30pm ACDT) and will be live and free on 7mate.
Cricket fans will be treated to expert insight and analysis from Seven’s esteemed group of WBBL callers and hosts, including Lisa Sthalekar, Katey Martin, Holly Ferling, Brad Hodge and Andy Maher.
You can also follow all the action with scorecards, stats and more in our brand new match centres.