Battling Storm fall just short

Western Storm showed genuine fighting spirit but fell just short as Lauren Winfield-Hill inspired Northern Diamonds to a 31-run Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy victory at the Cooper Associates County Ground.

Former England batter Winfield-Hill staged a superb opening stand of 101 with Sterre Kalis and added 76 for the second wicket in partnership with Hollie Armitage, before Leah Dobson produced a hard-hitting 68 to propel the visitors to 281 for three in a match reduced to 43 overs-a-side by morning rain.

The pick of the Storm bowlers, Mollie Robbins took two for 41 and ran out Kalis.

Required to score at seven an over, the home side remained in the hunt thanks to Fran Wilson and Sophie Luff, who both raised half centuries and shared a stand of 107 for the third wicket. Skipper Luff went onto top score with 87 from 105 balls, while Nat Wraith made an excellent 61 in a losing cause.

Storm eventually came up short on 250 for seven in the face of probing leg spin from Armitage and Katie Levick, who claimed three wickets between them to build crucial pressure during the middle overs.

Diamonds were asked to bat first beneath leaden skies, but once Winfield-Hill and Kalis had safely negotiated early movement off a drying pitch and seen off Robbins, they accelerated.

Matching one another blow for blow, the openers staged a profitable stand of 101 in 17.3 overs to set the tone, taking full advantage of a Storm seam attack without Lauren Filer and Dani Gibson. When the home side did manage to effect a breakthrough, it came when Kalis (45) was run out by Robbins’ stunning direct hit from square leg.

Unperturbed by the loss of her partner, the fluent Winfield-Hill went to 50 from 65 balls before settling into a supporting role alongside the hard-hitting Armitage. In bullish mood following an unbeaten hundred against Southern Vipers last time out, Diamonds’ in-form skipper carried on where she left off, striking the ball cleanly as she called the shots in a progressive second wicket alliance of 76 in 12.2 overs.

Intent upon forcing her way into the England squad for the winter tour of New Zealand, Armitage hoisted Chloe Skelton’s off spin over long-on for six and struck five further boundaries as she marched to 45 from 48 balls. A half century appeared hers for the taking when she drove the returning Robbins to deep mid-wicket in the 30th over.

Winfield-Hill had scarcely put a foot wrong in compiling 83 and looked set to reach three figures, only to then drive Robbins to cover point, having faced 91 balls and struck 10 fours. Diamonds were 188 for three, with Storm sensing an opportunity to rein them in.

However, Dobson took it upon herself to play an aggressive cameo that gave the visitors the boost they needed just at the right time. Striking the ball with impressive ferocity, the 22-year-old Scarborough-born batter plundered 14 off one Gemma Lane over and hoisted Niamh Holland’s first delivery over square leg for a huge six on her way to a 44-ball half century.

Dobson and Emma Marlow staged an unbroken partnership of 93 in 9.5 overs for the fourth wicket. Taking full advantage of the platform provided for her by the top three, Dobson finished on 68 not out from 50 balls, with a six and nine fours, while Marlow contributed an unbeaten 23 at slightly better than a run-a-ball as Diamonds ran up an imposing total.

If the home side were to challenge that score, they needed a good start, In the event, openers Alex Griffiths and Emma Corney departed inside five overs as Lizzie Scott and Sophia Turner made early inroads.

Up against it from the outset, the experienced pair of Luff and Wilson demonstrated cool heads in a crisis and admirable resolve to haul their team back into contention in a restorative alliance of 107 the third wicket. Adept at punishing the poor ball, these two found the boundary rope often enough to keep the required rate below eight, in the process raising three figures in 20 overs and asking questions of the bowlers.

Wilson was first to 50, the former World Cup winner reaching that landmark from 49 balls, while Luff required 24 deliveries more to bring up her half century, as the stand passed 100. Diamonds needed a breakthrough and leg spinner Armitage provided it in the 24th over, inducing Wilson to top-edge a catch to point and depart for 57 with the score on 124. With 158 runs required at 8.54 an over, a tall order became still more daunting when Holland succumbed to Levick’s leg breaks.

Refusing to throw in the towel, Wraith joined Luff in a defiant partnership of 69 for the fifth wicket to keep the contest alive. But Luff was stumped off the bowling of Levick with 78 still needed from 39 balls.

At the close of play, Storm skipper Luff said: “It probably got away from us a little bit at the end and 281 was a big score to have to chase. Fair play to their top order, they set a really good platform and it enabled them to cash in at the back end.

“With Dani Gibson and Lauren Filer being away with England, we have a little bit of an inexperienced bowling line-up at the moment. But I was really proud of the fight the girls showed today, especially with the bat. Myself and Fran (Wilson) stood up as senior players and Nat Wraith played very well at the end of what has been a difficult season for her. It was a decent wicket, but conditions were in our favour for that first hour and putting them in was the right thing to do. Mollie Robbins has not had a great deal of opportunity, but she is a skillful bowler and swings the new ball. In terms of individual performances, I was very pleased with her and Nat Wraith. But overall, I have to say their spinners probably bowled better than ours, and that was telling.”