It was short, it was wide. Heather Knight stood tall and cut it over point. The ball raced away to the advertising hoardings. It was game over. Knight’s team had won, and she had reached a half century. There was no wild celebration – no extravagant bat twirl, or manic run around – all she did was embrace Deepti Sharma at the other end. The relief on her face was evident: job (finally) done.
Western Storm defeated Lancashire Thunder, who are yet to get going in this tournament, by six wickets with three balls to spare in the sixth game of this final season of the 2019 edition of the Women’s Cricket Super League, thereby maintaining their clean record at the County Ground in Taunton on Saturday (August 10).
However, things weren’t all that rosy when the Storm’s skipper walked in. Their reliable opener Smriti Mandhana had just departed cheaply – after being given a life by Sophie Ecclestone in the first over of the run-chase. Ecclestone, who has gained this reputation of bowling her heart out and getting favourable results despite having little support from the others, fittingly – and to her relief – was the bowler to dismiss the Indian. Soon, even Rachel Priest departed to leave Storm reeling at 18 for 2.
In walked Fran Wilson. She wasn’t a part of the England T20I side that played the Ashes. At times it is apt to let the performance do the talking and Wilson did just that. Forging a partnership with her skipper that all but sealed the game, the England middle-order batsman kept finding the fence regularly. A few quiet deliveries in the middle didn’t bother her as she kept the scoreboard ticking.
Flicks, cuts, drives and even a reverse sweeps, she played it all and ensured that Knight didn’t have to bother going bonkers. Wilson’s second fifty in WCSL was a chanceless knock and she looked set to finish it off, before she fell to Hartley. However, the pair’s 88-run stand for the third wicket laid the foundation for Storm’s victory.
Now about Knight…
England and Storm’s captain isn’t one of the most powerful cricketers going around. Yet she is often unfazed by the task at hand and goes about with her job quietly. Her calmness and ability to see off good spells shone through on Saturday as she was happy to play out Ecclestone risk-free. That her post-match demeanour gets a mention at the start is because with that winning hit, she overtook New Zealand and Southern Vipers’ Suzie Bates to be the leading run-getter in the history of the tournament. It was her sixth half century in the league. Celebrations? What’s that?
Earlier in the day, Kate Cross, Lancashire Thunder’s skipper, had no hesitation in batting first after the coin landed in her favour. Even though Georgia Boyce fell pretty early, Sune Luus and Tahlia McGrath ensured that the mistake of the previous outing wouldn’t be repeated. Luus put her lack of runs in the previous two knocks behind her to get back among the runs.
Her strong bottom hand was on show as Anya Shrubsole would have found out. Anything on a length on middle and leg found its destination over the square leg boundary – twice off Shrubsole’s bowling. There were some deft touches on display, too, as anything that the Storm bowlers offered on her pads was being dispatched to the leg side boundary. She looked set to make the innings count when she fell to Claire Nicholas in the innings’ 15th over. Her 48-ball 62 featured four sixes – no one else hit even one!
Harmanpreet Kaur then came around and played a handy cameo towards the end. Her 18-ball blitz of 30 runs acted as a catalyst for Thunder to cross 140. They had managed to score 81 off the last 10 overs but lost three wickets for 34 runs towards the close of the innings.
For Storm, apart from Nicholas, who picked two wickets, Freya Davies and Deepti Sharma also had a wicket apiece.
Storm are yet to lose a game; Thunder are yet to win a game. The hosts of this game, though, shall be tested, as they play another unbeaten team, Southern Vipers, on Sunday (August 11), and they would need the unassuming Knight to play her part. Again.
Brief Scores: Lancashire Thunder 141/6 in 20 overs (Sune Luus 62, Harmanpreet Kaur 30; Claire Nicholas 2/25) lost to Western Storm 143/4 in 19.3 overs (Fran Wilson 54, Heather Knight 50*; Sophie Ecclestone 1/19) by six wickets.