KSL Finals Day – Hove 27 August 2018
The burning question was: who had the advantage, a side playing twice in the day, getting used to the pitch and the occasion, or the side that could relax till the crunch game at the end of the day?
Play-off: Surrey Stars v Western Storm
A big crowd turned out to find the answer. The noon start on a cool cloudy day seemed to give immediate advantage to the toss-winners, Western Storm. They exploited the conditions to remove three of Surrey Stars’ top batters, Lizelle Lee (19), Bryony Smith (11) and Sarah Taylor (15) before they could do irreparable damage. Taylor has tended to play her riskier shots early in the innings, and once more paid the penalty. A second consecutive reverse sweep was mistimed for Fran Wilson to take a fine catch low at backward point.
But the skipper, Nat Sciver (72* off 43), retained her excellent form. As the innings threatened to dissolve, she stayed strong, playing mostly with a straight bat. 72-5 could yet have spelt disaster for the Ovaltinies, but Marizanne Kapp (32*) joined her captain to build an unbroken partnership of 90.
This turned the tide against the Storm; they would need their batters to be near their best to win through. Anya Shrubsole achieved an unusual double, opening the batting too (in place of the absent Smriti Mandhana), but she didn’t stay long (2). Did she volunteer or was she volunteered? An old soldier’s commandment runs: ‘Never volunteer for anything’.
Storm accelerated fast through Rachel Priest (24) and Stafanie Taylor (16), but a crucial moment occurred when a Sophia Dunkley leg-break snared Heather Knight (34). She had looked capable of winning the game off her own bat.
Fran Wilson exploited her opportunity to remind the watching Mark Robinson of her qualities. In what must be her best innings of the summer she struck 58 off 45 with nine 4s.
But as so often has happened this season, the lower order couldn’t help her maintain the asking rate. So a second triumph in the tournament remained just out of reach.
Final: Loughborough Lightning v Surrey Stars
The only one of the three sides on display to be making their Finals Day debut, Lightning, won the toss and made the conventional choice. But they hadn’t counted on Lizelle Lee reserving this occasion to produce one of the finest innings of the season.
Sophie Devine was strangely off-colour, even before she suffered an arm injury in the field; a succession of deliveries slid down past leg-stump. (3-0-37-0) Back to that opening question: was it preferable to be thoroughly warmed-up with a practice run-through? It seemed so.
Lightning rid themselves of Smith (2) and Taylor (5) – a disappointing tally of 20 for the crowd favourite – but once Lee and Sciver (40) got together, life became hard for the Midlanders. The pair put on a thunderous 111, and Lee went on to complete only the second century of the competition (104, 58 balls, 13×4, 6×6). The ground shrank in size while she was at the crease. How was it possible? Her share of the running total was ridiculously high (104 out of 155).
For a while it seemed Stars would exceed the highest total of the year (Storm’s 185-4 eighteen days earlier), but Dane van Niekerk’s 15* off 10 couldn’t quite get them over the line. Despite that minor disappointment, the side that had come good only at the tail-end of the season could already sniff the champagne.
Lightning would now have to go out and bat at their very best on an unfamiliar pitch. In all honesty their effort never got going properly. Kapp broke the back of the upper order with two wickets and van Niekerk removed the biggest threat to their success by bowling Amy Jones with a corker. Between them, they took five wickets for 52 runs. The writing was on the wall from an early stage. By the time Jenny Gunn (23*) came in at No. 7 even her experience and forceful hitting couldn’t prevent the inevitable; a run-rate of 6.32 isn’t going to worry a bowling side these days.
So confident was Nat Sciver that she gave herself only a single over. The other five bowlers, Laura Marsh, Kapp, van Niekerk, Dunkley and Mady Villiers, all enjoyed themselves. Sciver turned late to Villiers. She responded with an outstanding spell of spin bowling from around the wicket, taking three wickets (4-0-22-3). All three were clean bowled; add to them two similar successes, and the total of five must rank amongst the highest of the season, the reward for straight-as-a-dye bowling. How fitting that the final wicket should fall to Stars’ senior bowler, Marsh, with yet another joyous stumping by the mistress of that art.
Player of the Match: Lizelle Lee
Player of the Tournament: the absent Smriti Mandhana