Ashleigh Gardner hoping for uninterrupted WBBL season after multiple concussions
When we think about concussion, contact sports like rugby league or boxing first spring to mind.
But Australian all-rounder Ash Gardner has had her fair share of head knocks in cricket.
Helmets are compulsory for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team and for players in the Women’s Big Bash, but as Gardner has discovered, they cannot prevent all the damage from a fast-paced delivery that happens to collide with the head.
Speaking with Grandstand, 22-year-old Gardner shared her frustrations of having to watch from the sideline in recent summers after suffering multiple concussions over a two-year span.
Some of these were picked up during match play and others at training, meaning the young batting prodigy has spent several periods of time out of the Australian and Sydney Sixers side.
“Yeah I’ve had … what would it be now? Probably five concussions, so there were too many head knocks in a short amount of time,” she said.
“People probably wouldn’t put concussion and cricket into the same sentence. Obviously we do wear a helmet, but it doesn’t mean that a 115kph little ball coming at your head is going to make it any better.
Classed as a head injury, and being taken a lot more seriously in modern sport, there are tonnes of research being done in this space.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup has seen referees place a lot more focus on penalising contact with an opponent’s head and rugby league has boosted enforcement around its head injury assessment (HIA) practice.
A recent study even showed female athletes may have more of a delayed response than their male counterparts.
This lines up with the way Gardner describes her own experiences with concussion.
“For me personally, I get more of a delayed-onset form of concussion. So rather than actually feeling a bit woozy as soon as I get hit, it’s more so the day after. I have really bad headaches [and feel] nauseous,” Gardner said.
“Out of the five that I’ve had, they’ve gotten worse every time. The longest I’ve had to recover was around two weeks, so it’s just basically like having a constant headache and obviously you’re restricted to what you can do.”
“If you hit your head against a wall, I wouldn’t say it’s too different to that, and you just don’t feel right. You know what you normally feel like and you’re probably 30 per cent under that, if not more.”
Concussion is something most people will never have to deal with, and Gardner — who made her Test debut in Australia’s successful Ashes tour in England over the winter — said she would not wish a concussion on anyone.
The majority of the recovery and transition back to sport revolves around time, but the hardest part for some athletes is actually the mental setback.
“I know I was quite scared to go back into the nets and face fast bowling for a while,” Gardner said.
For someone who has had to face this injury repeatedly, there is also frustration.
Gardner attributes her injuries to two things — luck and reflexes.
“Accidents happen and sometimes you can be really unlucky but it could have been a technical flaw,” she said.
“I feel like I do play the short ball quite well [but] I’m not a ducker.
“For now it’s just something I’ve tried to take in my stride and use as a positive influence going forward in my career. Making sure that it’s something I can be really good at, so they’ll have to find something else to try and put me under.”
Fortunately, Gardner has been back at full strength this year, representing Australia in the women’s team that won the Ashes and had a clean sweep with the West Indies and Sri Lanka in recent months.
Having already hit seven boundaries in the fifth edition of the WBBL, including two massive sixes at North Sydney last weekend, she will be back in action this Saturday at Hurstville Oval.
You can catch the match between the Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars on Grandstand’s ball-by-ball radio coverage and on the ABC Listen app.