Sophie leads Storm to victory over Lightning

Sophie Luff led by example as Western Storm comfortably defeated Lightning by 62 runs at Bristol to register their first win in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy since May.

Storm’s captain top-scored with 70 from 111 balls, including 6 fours, and shared in stands of 70 and 66 with Alex Griffiths and Danielle Gibson for the fourth and fifth wickets respectively as Storm posted 228-7 after being put into bat.

This performance represented a welcome return to form with the bat for a side that had struggled to score big runs for much of the summer in the absence of talismanic England captain Heather Knight.

Sarah Bryce, Lucy Higham and Ella Claridge each played themselves in to pass 20 as Lightning chased, but none was able to go on and post the kind of really substantial score needed to challenge Storm’s total. A triumvirate of  spinners ensured the hosts were able to exert a degree of control throughout, with Fi Morris claiming 2-34 and Nicole Harvey 2-25, while seamer Georgia Hennessy weighed in with 2-22 as Lightning were shot out for 166 in 41.2 overs.

Storm were attempting to avert a fifth straight defeat in the 50-over competition. Put into bat on a characteristically sluggish Bristol pitch, they again encountered difficulties, sliding to 42-3 after Morris and Lauren Parfitt had laid solid foundations in an opening stand of 38.

Slow left armer Kirstie Gordon struck first ball, pinning Morris lbw for 25, while seamer Sophie Munro had Parfitt caught at point for 11 and then took a smart return catch to send back Hennessy without scoring.

Thereafter, skipper Luff took personal responsibility for putting the innings back on track, raising a measured half century from 85 balls and dominating a restorative stand of 70 in 18 overs with Griffiths. Kathryn Bryce bowled Griffiths for 30 in the act of playing across the line, but Gibson picked up the cudgels, striking four boundaries in a hard-hitting cameo of 29 from 26 balls.

The fifth wicket partnership was already worth 66 inside 10 overs and Storm looked set to post a truly imposing total when the returning Gordon struck twice in the space of four balls in the 43rd over to slow the home side’s progress. Gibson was given out lbw and Luff, with her sights no doubt set on three figures, chipped to short mid-wicket and departed for 70 as Storm were pegged back to 181-6.

No matter. Natasha Wraith, Nicole Harvey and Chloe Skelton ensured the tail wagged, mustering seven boundaries between them during a frenetic finale which saw the hosts attain respectability.

Storm applied early pressure in the field, quickly reducing their opponents to 57-4 inside 15 overs to stamp their authority. Gibson set the tone with a sharp throw from point to run out Bethany Harmer, while Kathryn Bryce was caught at the wicket via an inside edge off a delivery from Lauren Filer that cut back sharply. Sarah Bryce played down the wrong line and was bowled by off spinner Claire Nicholas and Abi Freeborn departed in almost identical fashion, undone by Harvey’s cunning flight.

Teresa Graves went on the attack, scoring the only six of the match, but then chanced her arm once too often and succumbed to Gibson for 17 as Lightning subsided to 85-5 in the 22nd over. Now heavily dependent upon the obdurate Higham, who had grafted assiduously for 23 from 50 balls, the visitors found themselves between a rock and a hard place when their last realistic hope of victory was pinned inside her crease by a Morris off break with a further 129 still required from 21 overs.

Hennessy then accounted for Gordon, held by Filer at mid-on, Morris had Munro caught at extra cover, Yvonne Graves edged a catch behind off Hennessy and Harvey removed Grace Ballinger to wrap the innings up, leaving Claridge unbeaten on 39.

Following the win, Storm skipper Luff said: “I spoke before the game about players taking responsibility with the bat and it was really satisfying to see them do that. It was a good toss to lose in the end and I thought 220 would take some getting on that pitch. Scoring was tricky and you really had to be dogged and determined to stick around.

“This is still a young group of players and it was encouraging to see them put their hands up and own the situation. I’m comfortable with my own role in the team and Alex Griffiths gave me fantastic support when we needed it most in the middle overs. Danny Gibson then gave us real impetus to go on and make a big score.

“I felt our spinners gave us that extra bit of control and it is so good to have someone with as much experience as Claire Nicholas has back in the team. All in all, a good team performance and one that will give the girls encouragement going into the final game.”