Smriti Mandhana smashed another rapid fifty. ©Getty Images

Smriti Mandhana (72) and Anya Shrubsole (3 for 36) starred with bat and ball respectively in Western Storm’s five-wicket win over Lancashire Thunder at Boughton Hall Cricket Club in Chester on Sunday (August 18). Storm thus extended their unbeaten run in this season’s Women’s Cricket Super League to six matches, while Thunder suffered their fifth loss – and sixth non-win – of the season.

At the halfway stage, it looked like Storm would win at a canter. That the chase went down to the wire – 19.5 overs to be exact – was down to the fall of Mandhana’s wicket in the 15th over. However, the calmness of Deepti Sharma eventually guided Storm to a victory in the final over as she played a cameo and remained unbeaten on 23.  With four runs required off two balls, Sharma held her nerve and smacked Kate Cross for four to win the game off the penultimate delivery.

Defending 160 against the tournament’s best team and arguably the most destructive opening duo of the season, Rachel Priest and Smriti Mandhana, Thunder were on the lookout for early wickets. However, the hosts struggled to find a breakthrough straight away, as Mandhana struck a couple of quick boundaries.

Just when Priest started to find her flow, Thunder struck – Cross sending her back for 19. The wicket of her opening partner did not bother Mandhana one bit as she continued on her merry ways bringing up Storm’s fifty inside the power play. Mandhana was particularly harsh on Ecclestone as she clobbered her for 18 runs in the sixth over.

The left-hander notched up her second fifty of the 2019 WCSL off just 27 balls – a knock that almost took the game beyond Thunder’s reach. Such was the ball striking of Mandhana that Heather Knight was reduced to a mere spectator. Storm brought up their 100 in just the 12th over.

However, there was drama left in the game yet. The dismissal of Knight for 11 was soon followed by that of Mandhana who had collected a scintillating 43-ball 72. Storm still needed 39 runs off 31 deliveries with seven wickets in hand. Thunder took their chance and tightened the screws, soon dismissing Fran Wilson, to leave the visitors needing 32 in the last four overs. Overs 11-15 dramatically swung in favour of Thunder with only 26 runs being scored by Storm.

With the pressure piling on Storm’s lower middle order, their third – often overlooked – overseas player displayed nerves of steel to carry her side over the line in what turned out to be a tricky run-chase.

There is a peculiarity about Thunder’s campaign so far in the final edition of WCSL – they have come close but have failed to get over the line in the four matches they have played so far. With optimism on their minds, they entered their fifth match of the season facing the rampaging Western Storm whom they had never beaten before. Thunder opted to bat first after winning the toss and the failures of previous matches continued into Sunday’s game as well.

Anya Shrubsole struck not once but twice in the first over of the innings to remove Sune Luus (4) and Sophia Dunkley for a blob. The top-order failures have created huge pressure on their star player and caused Harmanpreet Kaur to play the waiting game and not attack from the word go. The burden of carrying the entire batting line-up on her shoulders has put the added pressure to deliver in all the matches.

After the first over fireworks, the batters  Tahlia McGrath and Kaur settled the nerves in Thunder camp without losing another wicket in the power play – they carried the team to 40 for 2. The threat of Freya Davies – the joint-highest wicket-taker in this season’s WSCL so far – was negated and the batters played risk-free cricket by punishing the odd loose balls on offer.

The duo of Kaur and McGrath brought their fifty-run stand in the ninth over of the innings and were looking to go big. Kaur, initially slow to start with, settled nicely as the game went on. During the second block of five over (overs no. 6-10) 51 runs were scored with Kaur scoring majority of the runs. She was particularly harsh on Sonia Odedra, to whom she took a special liking, scoring 24 runs of her two overs. Kaur brought up her fifty in just 36 balls and the signs were looking ominous for Storm.

Skipper Knight was then forced to turn to her star bowler Davies in the 13th over for a breakthrough and she duly delivered, removing the dangerous looking Kaur for an even 50. The cliched saying of one brings two was again on show as Knight dismissed Georgie Boyce for one. The hundred was brought up in the 14th over, but what looked like a total of 170 was suddenly looking like 140 following the wicket of Kaur.

The visitors, however, came storming back into the contest as they dried up the runs in the last five overs and took a clump of wickets as well. Thunder slipped from 94 for 2 to 125 for 6 in the 17th over. Sophie Ecclestone and Kate Cross’ cameos helped push the score beyond 150 and Thunder eventually finished on 159 for 8 in their 20 overs.

Shrubsole was the star with the ball as she finished with figures of 3 for 36 and was well supported by Knight who picked up two wickets.

 

Brief scores: Lancashire Thunder 159/8 in 20 overs (Harmanpreet Kaur 50, Tahlia McGrath 44; Anya Shrubsole 3-36, Heather Knight 2-27) lost to Western Storm 160/5 in 19.5 overs (Smriti Mandhana 72, Deepti Sharma 23*; Sophie Ecclestone 2-32) by five wickets.