Western Storm captain Heather Knight led by example as the defending Kia Super League champions defeated Lancashire Thunder by 76 runs at the Cooper Associates County Ground to take a major step towards finals day qualification.
World Cup winner Knight top-scored with 76 and shared in stands of 66 and 102 for the second and third wickets with Smriti Mandhana and Stafanie Taylor respectively as the hosts posted an imposing 185 for four after being put in.
Unable to recover from the loss of early wickets, Thunder subsided to 109 all out in 18.2 overs as Storm secured a fifth successive victory to move clear of Loughborough Lightning at the top of the table. Wales international Claire Nicholas proved the pick of the bowlers, claiming three for 11 from three overs.
Coming into this game as the competition’s leading run scorer with 338 at an average of 85, Mandhana carried on where she left off against Yorkshire Diamonds earlier in the week.
Far from being fazed by the early departure of opening partner Rachel Priest, pinned lbw by Sophie Ecclestone in the first over, the left-hander seized the initiative by trading almost exclusively in boundaries during a power-play that yielded 51 runs.
Off the mark with a cut four behind square, Storm’s overseas signing plundered 14 runs from one Kate Cross over as she moved through the gears.
Thunder deployed four spinners in an attempt to limit the scoring while the fielding restrictions were in place, but Mandhana was quite prepared to go the aerial route, harvesting seven fours and two sixes and dominating a stand of 66 in seven overs for the second wicket with Knight.
Having hoisted Natalie Brown over long-on for the first maximum of the match, the diminutive Indian repeated the feat at the expense of Alex Hartley in the eighth over, her 21st six of the tournament taking her to within one run of a half century.
No doubt intent upon realising three figures against Thunder for the second time in the space of seven days, Mandhana surprisingly surrendered her wicket cheaply next ball, persuaded by Hartley to hole out to Amy Satterthwaite at deep mid-wicket.
Charged with the task of building upon solid foundations, Knight and Taylor deployed deft placement and quick running between the wickets to advance the score to 86 for two at halfway.
Knight smashed a short-pitched delivery from Cross to the mid-wicket boundary for six to raise the 50 partnership in the 15th over and went to a 36-ball half century with her fifth four shortly afterwards. She eventually slogged Cross to wide long-on in the penultimate over, but only after staging a hundred partnership with Taylor to break Lancastrian resistance.
Prepared to play second fiddle while her captain was at large, Taylor hit out at the death to raise 50 in the grand manner with a huge six over mid-wicket at the expense of Ecclestone, the West Indian international finishing unbeaten on 51 from 37 balls.
Off spinner Nicholas clean bowled Evelyn Jones in the second over and then had the dangerous Satterthwaite smartly stumped by Priest off a wide delivery as Storm restricted their opponents to 37 for two in the power-play.
Freya Davies adhered admirably to the tenets of line and length to build scoreboard pressure from the River End, and Knight took full advantage by removing Nicole Bolton lbw as Thunder lurched to 38 for three in the seventh over.
When Indian batter Hermanpreet Kaur was stumped by Priest off the bowling of Taylor for eight, the visitors were 43 for four in the eighth over and the game was effectively up.
Taylor then accounted for Emma Lamb in returning impressive figures of two for 18 from three overs, while Nicholas returned to remove Eleanor Threlkeld, who at least summoned a degree of resistance in posting 33 at a run a ball.
After the match Nicholas said: “It was a great team effort and a pretty comprehensive win, but we’re still not firing on all cylinders. The best is still to come and, hopefully, we can go up a couple more gears.
“Smriti is on fire right now and everything she does seems to come off for her and the team. I thought Heather and Stafanie played really intelligent innings and we always fancied ourselves defending a total like that.
“We stuck to our plans in the field, bowled a tight line throughout and took early wickets, which really made the difference. It’s tough bowling up top against the best batters, but you have to believe in yourself, even when things don’t go to plan. It was good to get among the wickets and that will do my confidence the world of good. That’s five wins in a row and we’re building real momentum going into the final stages of the tournament.”