Stars secured their place in the final at the Ageas with a convincing win over Sparks at Edgbaston Foundation Ground.
Like all the squads they were shorn of many of their top players, but not even Alice Capsey’s late withdrawal – she didn’t recover from the awkward fall she suffered when being run out in the previous round – was enough to tip the game in Sparks’ favour.
For the third time they topped 160, thanks especially to Kirstie White (29), Chloe Brewer (41) and later on Emma Jones (46) who wielded the long handle to devastating effect.
Sparks’ much vaunted opening pair, Issy Wong and Emily Arlott, proved expensive, going for over 60 from their combined six overs. Claire Boycott pulled them back with 3-22, but Stars were motoring so fast that six of them achieved a strike-rate of 100+, only Alice Davidson-Richards letting the side down with a quite unnecessary reverse sweep off her first ball that landed in the safe hands of Thea Brookes at short third man.
Once again Eve Jones had to play the lead role in the reply. She made 71, but with hindsight we can see that her late burst of runs came too late to tip the balance.
We had the unusual spectacle of a bowler being removed from the scene of the crime as Emma Jones couldn’t find her accuracy, bowled three no-balls and had to be replaced mid-over by Ryana Macdonald-Gay, the 17-year-old who had only just signed a contract for Stars. Quite a baptism.
Not even this drama could help Sparks to reach their target. Jones the bat clobbered two consecutive sixes of Kalea Moore, but it was too little, too late.
With the match relocated to Warwickshire’s second ground from Worcester, the cameras did well to shift across in time, but their position near ground level was a handicap to the live stream viewer, as was the producer’s inexplicable preference for an angle from wide mid-on rather than straight down the pitch.
Our commentator was Isabelle Duncan, author of Skirting the Boundary, a history of women in cricket, and an MCC committee member. But strangely she admitted to having seen few if any of the foregoing games, and seemed quite unfamiliar with the vast majority of the players on view. Had she had enough time between being invited to take the microphone and the start of play to discover the odd fact about them? Evidently not.
The other matches
Thunder can’t expect to win games when their batting proves so shaky. Five of them reached double figures; none passed 16. Jenny Gunn enjoyed herself taking 4-15 off her four overs.
In reply Bess Heath, the keeper, justified her opening slot (Lauren Winfield-Hill came in at No 3) by hitting a match-winning 58* off 40 – another example of an unheralded player grasping the chance to show her worth to any selectors watching.
Both the bottom teams got close to victory without being able to cross the line first. Lightning batted decently, but in the last analysis it was the bowling that let them down: a vast array of extras made Vipers’ task easier. Even so, their performances have faded recently with the call-up of two more players to England colours (Charlie Dean and Maia Bouchier). They needed every one of their 240 deliveries to see them home, Paige Scholfield providing much-needed impetus with 41* and a last-ball four. No wonder she admitted afterwards to feeling tension as never before.
Likewise Sunrisers got much closer to Storm than they have managed in the past. More confident batting led by Cordelia Griffith (32), left them only five short of their target, but Georgia Hennessy’s 62 (62) at the start proved the difference.
It was lovely to see Fenner’s being used for this match. Happy memories.
Lightning 124-9; Southern Vipers 125-3
SE Stars 165-6; Central Sparks 139-6
Thunder 90-9; Northern Diamonds 92-2
Western Storm 147-5; Sunrisers 142-7
Tables after 6 rounds:
Group A W L Pts
SE Stars 5 1 21
Southern Vipers 4 2 19
Central Sparks 3 3 12
Lightning 0 6 0
Group B W L T Pts
Northern Diamonds 4 2 0 17
Western Storm 4 2 0 17
Thunder 2 3 1 11
Sunrisers 1 4 1 6
Thanks to the ECB’s inexplicable preference for a three-way knock-out, Northern Diamonds and Southern Vipers will contest the right to play South East Stars in the final. Who will be brave enough to snatch the trophy from the eponymous hero’s grasp?
Diamonds shaded Storm with a superior net run-rate.