Sophie and Fran help Storm to dramatic win


Western Storm demonstrated tremendous tenacity with the bat to register an unlikely victory over top-of-the-table South East Stars in an entertaining Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy match at the Cooper Associates Ground in Taunton.

Set a daunting target of 299 to win in 44 overs in a rain-shortened contest, Storm reached 236 for five in their chase when the weather again closed in to force a premature conclusion, the home side winning by eight runs on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern Method thanks to assured half centuries from skipper Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson and a forthright knock of 40 not out from Nat Wraith.

Put into bat, Stars looked to have done enough with Paige Scholfield, Alice Davidson-Richards and Aylish Cranstone scoring 74, 65 and 63 not out respectively. But a stand of 131 in 19.5 overs between Luff and Wilson put the home side firmly back in contention before the rain returned.

The first side to defeat Stars in four matches this term, Storm have now won back-to-back games and have an opportunity to put themselves into the title mix when they host Southern Vipers at Bristol on Saturday.

Their confidence high following three straight wins, Stars made light of being inserted on a drying pitch after rain delayed the start of play by an hour and 15 minutes. Openers Bryony Smith and Alexa Stonehouse more than made up for lost time, staging a whirlwind stand of 42 in five overs to give the innings crucial early impetus.

Mollie Robbins induced Smith to drive to cover point in the sixth over, but the respite proved short-lived as Scholfield picked up the cudgels in a progressive alliance of 47 for the second wicket with Stonehouse. The Sough African-born right hander posted a brilliant match-winning hundred against Storm at Bristol 12 months ago and appeared capable of repeating the feat when hoisting Sophia Smale for two towering sixes over mid-wicket in the space of three deliveries.

With Stars scoring at eight an over, it was proving a good toss to lose. Stonehouse attempted to cut Harrison and was superbly held by Fran Wilson at backward point, departing the scene for 29, only for Davidson-Richards to announce herself with a straight six at the expense of Amanda-Jade Wellington as runs continued to flow.

At least the Australian spinner succeeded in exerting a degree of control during nine overs from the River End that yielded just 35 runs. Otherwise, Storm’s bowlers found the going hard in the face of relentless pressure from Scholfield and Davidson-Richards. Scholfield raised 50 from 48 balls and the 100 partnership occupied a mere 107 deliveries as the third wicket pair ruthlessly exploited anything short of a length on an easy-paced track.

Called into the attack for the first time, Niamh Holland required just two balls to break the partnership, pinning Scholfield lbw for 74 with the score on 189. But the damage had already been done, Scholfield having harvested five fours and three sixes in an enterprising innings that spanned 64 balls.

Pacing her innings, Davidson-Richards went to 50 from 74 balls, was afforded a life on 52 when dropped at extra cover by Chloe Skelton and advanced her score to 65 from 85 balls before top-edging a pull shot to fine leg off the bowling of Alex Griffiths.

Thereafter, Cranstone ensured there was no let-up in the tempo, the Surrey left-hander making a quickfire 63 from 40 deliveries, accruing eight boundaries and dominating a whirlwind unbroken sixth-wicket alliance of 47 in four overs with Ryana MacDonald-Gay.

Required to score at seven an over, Storm got off to the worst possible start as Smale offering a return catch to Phoebe Franklin and departed in the third over. When Griffiths was bowled by Stonehouse soon afterwards, the home side were 10 for two and between a rock and a hard place.

Charged with the task of rebuilding, the experienced pair of Luff and Wilson could ill afford to take undue risks, instead adopting a cautious approach against the new ball.

Luff helped Wilson add 50 in 52 balls, the third wicket partnership growing in belief all of the time as they kept the required rate at about eight an over. They found acceleration to extend their alliance to three figures via a further 41 deliveries, rotating the strike and making Stars work hard in the field. Wilson was first to 50, reaching that landmark from 46 balls, while Luff required 18 deliveries more to pass the same milestone as the home side advanced to 122 for two at the halfway point, requiring a further 176 at 8.1 an over.

Just at the point where the stand was becoming a concern, Stars effected a breakthrough, Bethan Miles bowling Luff for 59 as she advanced down the wicket. Her gutsy innings spanned 73 balls and included five fours. Wilson was eventually stumped by Chloe Hill for 65.

Up against it, the fifth wicket pair of Wraith and Wellington opted to meet fire with fire, adopting the aerial route as they sought to bring the required rate back down to manageable levels. The only Storm batter to target the short boundary, Wellington helped herself to three sixes at the expense of Miles, who was relieved when exacting a swift revenge and having the Australian caught in the deep in the act of slog-sweeping for a 16-ball 30.

Needing 74 off the last 10 overs, Wraith and new partner Holland mustered sufficient boundaries to heap pressure on Stars for the first time in the match. Their partnership was worth 44 when the rain arrived, forcing the players off with the score on 236 for five and Storm on the right side of the Duckworth Lewis equation by a matter of eight runs.