Heather and Fran steer Storm to victory over Thunder

Heather Knight and Fran Wilson staged a brilliant partnership of 111 to guide Western Storm to a six-wicket victory over Thunder in a compelling Charlotte Edwards Cup contest at Taunton’s Cooper Associates County Ground.

Set 155 to win, Storm chased down their target with four balls to spare thanks to superbly-judged knocks of 62 and 53 from Knight and Wilson respectively, the third-wicket pair calling upon all their vast experience to make amends for last week’s defeat at the hands of Northern Diamonds.

Thunder won the toss and Emma Lamb top-scored with 36 from 22 balls, dominating an opening stand of 65 with Liberty Heap. But the visitors were unable to maintain their early momentum in the face of accurate bowling and intense fielding and were restricted to 154 for seven.

Dani Gibson was outstanding in conceding just 22 runs from four overs and claiming the key wicket of Deandra Dottin, while Storm effected two run outs to cap an impressive display in the field.

Gibson also contributed a useful 20 runs at the top of the order to give Storm’s reply lift-off before being bowled by Sophie Ecclestone. If Thunder felt they were in the game after reducing the hosts to 27 for two, they were eventually disabused of the idea by former England team-mates Knight and Wilson, whose partnership initially proved measured rather than spectacular.

Wilson was given a life on 17 in the tenth over, dropped on the square leg boundary by Heap off the bowling of Naomi Dattani. How Thunder must have regretted their profligacy as the third wicket stand realised 50 in 6.5 overs, Knight and Wilson slowly applying more pressure as they upped the rate.

Although Tara Norris and Mahika Gaur kept things reasonably tight, Ecclestone’s slow left arm represented Thunder’s best chance of victory. But Knight and Wilson safely negotiated the England spinner, raising 100 in the 14th over as they began to accelerate.

Knight was first to 50, lifting Dottin over square leg for six and then driving the next delivery into the covers to go to her half century from 35 balls. Wilson went to 50 via 42 balls with her seventh four as Storm closed in on their target, aided and abetted by some ragged fielding from the visitors.

By the time Knight holed out in the deep off the bowling of Ecclestone in the 17th over, the hosts were virtually home and dry. Wilson departed in the penultimate over, caught at cow corner off the bowling of Gaur, leaving Prendergast and Sophie Luff to finish the job.

Thunder had earlier elected to bat and were quick out of the blocks, Lamb and Heap taking advantage of the fielding restrictions to raise 10 boundaries between them in a useful opening stand of 65 in 7.2 overs.

Teenager Heap plundered fours either side of the wicket at the expense of Gibson and afforded Lauren Filer the same treatment in the second over as the Burnley-born teenager hit the ground running. England batter Lamb was on one when she offered an eminently presentable chance, clipping a ball from Filer straight to mid-wicket where Sophie Luff, recently recovered from a broken thumb, uncharacteristically fumbled. Lamb made good her escape, taking the aerial route to plunder the first six of the innings off Orla Prendergast.

Thunder’s smooth progress while the restrictions were in place foundered upon the introduction of spin, Chloe Skelton removing the dangerous Lamb with her second delivery to effect the breakthrough Storm so badly needed. Coming forward and over-reaching, Lamb was deftly stumped by Nat Wraith, having accrued five fours and a six.

New batter Dottin greeted Sophia Smale’s slow left arm by hoisting her over mid-wicket for a huge six, but the visitors lost crucial momentum during the middle overs, Heap chancing her arm in pursuit of a single and being run out for 22 by Niamh Holland’s brilliant pick-up-and-throw from square leg. When Dottin was bowled for 10 by a cleverly-disguised slower ball from Gibson, Thunder had slipped from 65 without loss to 79 for three in the space of 3.5 overs.

Dattani and Sophie Ecclestone attempted to repair the damage in a fourth wicket stand of 30 in 3.5 overs, only to fall to successive deliveries in the 15th over, sent down by Filer. Slow to set off for a single, Dattani was run out by Prendergast’s throw from mid-on, while England all-rounder Ecclestone was bowled for 22 as Thunder further subsided to 109 for five.

Needing to pick up the cudgels if they were to regain the initiative, Danni Collins and Fi Morris found themselves effectively shackled by a combination of the wily Gibson, Alex Griffiths and Prendergast as Storm turned the screw at the death. Prendergast accounted for Morris and Ellie Threlkeld during the final over to finish with two for 36 and, although Collins scored 15 not out at a run-a-ball, Thunder’s middle order mustered just three boundaries in the final five overs.

Storm Captain, Sophie Luff said: “Heather and Fran both played brilliantly. They got themselves in and then both opened up towards the end of their innings. When Heather hit Sophie Ecclestone over extra cover for six, it showed just what a World class player she is. Their partnership was superbly-judged and, although they would have liked to have finished things off, we were in a great position by the time they were out and it was manageable. There is a calmness about the two of them and it is very reassuring for the rest of us to have players of that experience and ability in the group. Heather loves coming back to play for Storm and that showed in her performance.

“They got off to a brilliant start as you would expect in the powerplay, but I thought we pulled it back pretty well. Chloe Skelton is someone I can rely on and we exerted more control once she had ended that opening partnership. Dani Gibson was also outstanding with the ball and she is becoming more and more confident in her delivery. She shows good¬† variation and an England call has to be a possibility for her. We fielded well and there were some really good run outs. Those are things we practice and we were rewarded for our hard work today.”