Only three teams qualify for Finals Day at Hove on Bank Holiday Monday 27 August. As the six sides went into the last round of regular competition on Saturday 18 August, this was the way they lined up:
Table after 9 Rounds P W L T NR Net RR Pts
Loughborough Lightning 9 7 2 0 0 +1.568 . 33
Western Storm 9 6 2 0 1 +1.094 30
Surrey Stars 9 4 4 0 1 -0.479 20
Lancashire Thunder 9 4 5 0 0 -0.965 17
Yorkshire Diamonds 9 2 6 0 1 -0.348 11
Southern Vipers 9 2 6 0 1 -0.491 10
Western Storm v Surrey Stars
So if the Stars failed to beat Storm and Thunder beat bottom side Vipers, there could yet be tears in Kennington. All three scheduled games were played under lights.
Nat Sciver won the toss at the Oval and invited the visitors to bat first. Perhaps the most significant moment in the game happened as early as the third over: Smriti Mandhana (5), the only player to top 400 runs in the competition, was run out by Mady Villiers after a mix-up with Rachel Priest. When Priest was bowled by Dane van Niekerk (30), Stars knew they still had to get past formidable batting, but their tails were up.
Heather Knight (62) continued her excellent form, staying at the crease while 136 runs were amassed. It took another run-out by Laura Marsh to her own bowling to stop her short. Fran Wilson (28) had added 59 useful runs with her, but for once Storm had failed to post a daunting total (158-5). It has been their batting that has kept them at or near the front of the race till now; would their bowling play its part to deny the hosts?
The Stars’ batting has been a relative disappointment this season; their overall average is barely half that of the two sides placed above them. But Lizelle Lee and Bryony Smith, probably the most powerful opening pair in the competition, set about the target with relish. They had 90 on the board inside 10 overs before Lee carved a catch to backward point off Anya Shrubsole.
After pushing a simple single off her first ball, Sarah Taylor succumbed to her namesake Stefanie’s next ball and was stumped – not the first time this season. But the run-rate already established meant that the skipper (30) and Dane van Niekerk (25) didn’t need to take unnecessary risks.
Even so, by the time Sciver was out in the 19th over, 9 runs were still needed. The squeals heard came exclusively from the terraces, but nerves jangled on the field. The light blue ones were finally soothed by a huge blow to the boundary by Sophia Dunkley, who had a good all-round match. Two balls were left unbowled.
Lancashire Thunder v Southern Vipers
Lancashire Thunder can feel thoroughly satisfied with their performance this season. After winning their debut game in 2016, they had to wait till this summer to repeat that success. To finish with five victories is a huge achievement. Though they’ll be disappointed not to join in the fun at Hove, they can hold their heads high, not least because their biggest signing, Harmanpreet Kaur, couldn’t join them till August 3, when – inevitably? – she was run out for 0.
They did beat the under-performing Vipers at Old Trafford, but the Oval result did for them. Sophie Ecclestone returned another memorable analysis of 4-20 to put her in second place behind Sophie Devine in the overall wicket-taking stakes (15, 14) – subject to confirmation.
Yorkshire Diamonds v Loughborough Lightning
Was it inevitable that the league leaders would fall at the final hurdle to a side that played tail-end Charlie for so long? Yorkshire’s bowlers just held their nerve to prevent Loughborough’s lower order from squeezing over the line. They were indebted to Beth Mooney for her 76 (50 balls) early on. By contrast, Lightning’s leading bats all made some runs, but no-one could take the bull by the horns. Another dramatically close affair.
The pre-Final Table
P W L T NR Net RR Pts
Loughborough Lightning 10 7 3 0 0 +1.361 33
Western Storm 10 6 3 0 1 +0.919 30
Surrey Stars 10 5 4 0 1 -0.404 24
Lancashire Thunder 10 5 5 0 0 -0.825 21
Yorkshire Diamonds 10 3 6 0 1 -0.290 15
Southern Vipers 10 2 7 0 1 -0.490 10