Blaze too hot for Storm at Leicestershire

Australian all-rounder Heather Graham took four for 10 on her debut for The Blaze as the East Midlands side continued to sweep aside all-comers in the Charlotte Edwards Cup, beating Western Storm by seven wickets at the Uptonsteel County Ground in Leicester.

Graham, who has replaced South Africa’s Nadine De Klerk in the Blaze line-up with the latter on international duty, led an impressive bowling display from the home side, backed up by off-spinner Lucy Higham (two for 18) and left-arm strike bowler Grace Ballinger (one for 17) as Storm were dismissed for 99, England skipper Heather Knight top-scoring with 20 on her first appearance in this season’s competition.

The Blaze knocked off their 100-run target with 35 balls to spare thanks in the main to Scottish internationals Kathryn Bryce (46) and sister Sarah (37 not out), with Graham capping her afternoon by hitting the winning boundary.

Led by Kirstie Gordon, The Blaze, whose only defeat in last season’s competition was against Southern Vipers in the final, now have six wins from six in the expanded 2024 edition and top the points table ahead of South East Stars, keeping them firmly on track for a return to finals day at Derby on June 22nd.

Storm skipper Sophie Luff opted to bat first after winning the toss but lost two wickets for 29 in the powerplay overs. Ballinger knocked out Nat Wraith’s off stump in a wicket-maiden before Graham, capped four times by her country in T20 internationals, struck with the third ball of her Blaze debut as Fran Wilson fell victim to an excellent stumping.

Knight made a positive start and hit back-to-back boundaries off Gordon’s left-arm spin but the Blaze skipper’s retort was to bowl her with a superb delivery that straightened off the pitch. Leg-spinner Josie Groves had Amanda-Jade Wellington leg before stepping across the stumps and Storm were 58 for four after 10 overs.

Higham bowled Alex Griffiths and had Luff caught at mid-off in the space of two tight overs, Issy Wong was run out at the bowler’s end after being sent back by Sophia Smale, Graham returning to take three wickets in the space of six deliveries as Smale was stumped off a wide, Chloe Skelton holed out to long-on and Ellie Anderson yorked, the last two coming off consecutive balls.

Wong removed England’s Tammy Beaumont with the last ball of the opening over of the home side’s chase and The Blaze were 13 for two after 13 balls when Teresa Graves slapped Anderson straight to backward point but Storm could make no further inroads until Lauren Filer bowled Kathryn Bryce to end a third-wicket stand of 67 in the 12th over.

By then, the result was not in doubt, Graham lofting a straight drive over the head of leg-spinner Wellington to finish the job off the first ball of the 15th over.

Following the match, Storm Head Coach, Trevor Griffin said: “We’re bitterly disappointed. It wasn’t good enough today, especially with the bat. I thought The Blaze bowled quite nicely, they utilised their skills very well and we probably tried to force it a bit too much with the bat. The bottom line is that 100 runs at this level of cricket isn’t enough.

“We’ve spoken about building partnerships a number of times but we weren’t able to do that today. Our biggest was 20. So you have to ask why aren’t we learning in that regard. There is an element too of not transferring what we do in the nets into the games enough.

“I thought our bowlers up top did well – Lauren Filer, Ellie Anderson and Issy Wong all bowled nicely. We probably didn’t back it up as well in the field as we could. There were a few sloppy errors.

“There are a lot of things that we are doing well but a lot of areas in which we are just not delivering as we should do.”