Central Sparks come out on top at Taunton

Eve Jones and Maddy Green scored contrasting half centuries to guide Central Sparks to a seven-wicket win over Western Storm and keep alive their hopes of qualifying for Finals Day in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

Sparks captain Jones grafted her way to 84 from 113 balls, while New Zealand international Green plundered a quickfire 64 from 56 deliveries with 10 fours as the visitors chased down a victory target of 242 with 35 deliveries in hand at the Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton.

These two staged a match-winning alliance of 106 in 15 overs for the third wicket, while in-form Abi Freeborn made a useful 44 as the visitors broke down stiff Storm resistance to prevail with something to spare.

Nat Wraith top-scored with 39 and shared in a defiant stand of 64 with Katie Jones, whilst Sophia Smale and Chloe Skelton added 60 for the eighth wicket as Storm fought back from 113 for nine in the 29th over to post 241 for eight after being put into bat.

However, Sparks took wickets at regular intervals to remain in control, Katie George claiming two for 49 against her former teammates. and off spinner Georgia Davis weighing in with two for 32 from 10 overs.

A sixth win in 13 group games means Sparks will go into their final fixture against South East Stars at Edgbaston on Saturday in the knowledge that victory could secure them a place at Finals Day later this month. Storm will be looking to salvage some pride when they conclude their campaign against Thunder at Emirates Old Trafford this weekend.

Storm needed to take early wickets and Smale took the new ball and bowled Beth Ellis in the seventh over with the score on 14.

However, the experienced pair of Jones and Freeborn steadied the ship in a reassuring partnership of 83 in 17.5 overs for the second wicket to keep the chase on track. Emboldened by the unbeaten hundred she scored in her last innings against Sunrisers at Chelmsford on Sunday, Freeborn helped herself to six boundaries to break the stranglehold exerted by Storm’s bowlers. She had scored 44 from 57 balls and had her sights on a half century when she played across the line to Alex Griffiths and was bowled with the score on 97 in the 25th over.

Crucially for Sparks, Smale put down an extremely difficult return catch in the next over to give Jones a life on 41, and the former England batter took full advantage to move to 50 from 79 balls. If Jones played cautiously, Green adopted a more aggressive approach as the partnership realised 50 in 46 balls. The pugnacious Green struck seven fours on her way to a 47-ball half century.

Smale eventually had Green stumped by Jones to finish with two for 38, but Jones remained at large to see the job through with Ami Campbell.

Put into bat on a used track, Storm struggled to build the partnerships necessary to post a truly competitive total. Four top and middle order batters played themselves in to pass 30, but none was able to reach the meaningful score needed to propel their team into a position of ascendancy.

Emma Corney and Alex Griffiths began well enough in an opening stand of 38 until the latter was bowled by George for 18, while Grace Potts struck in the following over, knocking back Sophie Luff’s off stump to reduce the hosts to 43 for two.

Davis and Hannah Baker then claimed combined figures of two for 49 in 12 overs as spin frustrated Storm’s quest for momentum during the crucial middle overs. Davis struck to remove Corney for 32 and Baker beat Niamh Holland in the flight and bowled her for seven. Beth Ellis accounted for Fran Wilson, held at mid-wicket for 30, as Storm slipped to 113 for five in the 29th over.

Wraith and Jones provided a much-needed change in tempo, the sixth wicket pair staging a restorative stand of 64 in 9.3 overs as Storm displayed character aplenty to fight back. Making only her sixth appearance of the season, 17-year-old Jones sent her first three scoring shots to the boundary to announce herself in style, while Wraith adopted a similarly aggressive stance to effect a temporary change in the balance of power.

Unfortunately for Storm,  these two fell in successive overs, Wraith playing across the line and being bowled by George for a 48-ball 39, and Jones stepping in front of a delivery from the returning Davis and departing for 32, her highest score for Storm.

Having reduced their opponents to 179 for seven in the 40th, Sparks’ efforts to wrap the innings up quickly were stymied by Sophia Smale and Chloe Skelton, who mustered lower-order resistance in the form of a spirited alliance of 60 in 10.2 overs. Deploying clever improvisation, teenager Smale raised 30 from 32 balls before offering a return catch to Emily Arlott in the final over, while the resourceful Skelton finished unbeaten on 26.

At the end of the match, Nat Wraith said: “It’s not the finish we wanted to our home games, especially in front of our own supporters at Taunton. I thought we fought hard to make it as tough as possible for them, but in the end 241 left us a bit short.

“We managed to put them under some pressure early on with the ball, but that innings from Maddy Green just took it away from us. Eve Jones also played very well and they had a couple of big partnerships, which is something we were unable to do.

“We did well to come back from 113 for five and it was important to have a couple of big partnerships towards the end, to at least give us something to bowl at. I enjoyed batting with Katie Jones. It was her first real opportunity to do something with the bat for us and she made the most of it. We were going along nicely, scoring quite quickly, and then I got out. There were still quite a few overs to go, so I was disappointed with that.

“There’s one game to go against Thunder and we now have to do everything we can to try and sign off with a win at Old Trafford.”