Stars come out on top in thriller at Bristol

Tash Farrant held her nerve in a dramatic final over as South East Stars opened their Charlotte Edwards Cup campaign with a narrow four-run victory over Western Storm at the Seat Unique Stadium in Bristol.

Chasing a target of 133 to win, Storm required 10 runs off the final six deliveries, only to be undone by the former England all-rounder, who claimed 1-23 from three overs and contributed a superb run out to make the difference in a tight contest.

Amanda-Jane Wellington had earlier played a starring role, claiming 3-22 from four overs and weighing in with a catch and a run out to help restrict Stars to 132-9. Aylish Cranstone top-scored with 31 for the visitors, who only partially recovered from a collapse which saw them lose five wickets in 25 balls during the middle overs.

Storm opener Emma Corney announced her return to the side with a 37-ball 40 to provide the reply with solid foundations, Niamh Holland contributed 32 from 36 deliveries, but Alex Griffiths and Sophie Luff were both dismissed in the final over as the chase went down to the wire.

Having won the toss and elected to bat, Stars skipper Bryony Smith cut the first ball from Sophia Smale for four, clipped Ellie Anderson to the fine leg boundary and then drove Alex Griffiths over long-off to demonstrate her attacking intent in a blaze of boundaries. Storm no doubt breathed a collective sigh of relief when the abrasive Smith advanced down the pitch to loan signing Anderson and top-edged a drive high to Smale at backward point, departing for 16 with the score on 23 in the fourth over.

Paige Scholfield announced herself with a sumptuous pull shot for four at the expense of Anderson and then cover drove Smale for another boundary, while Sophia Dunkley twice steered Chloe Skelton’s off spin behind square and over the rope as Stars posted a respectable 44-1 from the six-over powerplay.

Wellington quickly redressed the balance, her third delivery from the Bristol Pavilion End bowling Scholfield for 12 in the act of playing across the line. But pressure generated at one end was promptly relieved at the other, Niamh Holland twice dropping short and being carved to the boundary by new batter Phoebe Franklin as the visitors continued to go along nicely at eight an over.

Storm were again indebted to their talismanic overseas recruit, Wellington comprehensively bowling Dunkley around her legs for 23 and then running out Tash Farrant with a superb direct hit from mid-off to further reduce Stars to 68-4 at halfway. When Franklin mis-timed a drive and found Anderson at mid-off in the next over, the Australian leg spinner had taken three wickets in 14 balls to plunge the visitors deep into trouble and transform the game.

Displaying impressive intensity in their fielding, Storm kept the pressure on, Anderson running out Chloe Hill and Smale inducing Kalea Moore to hit to the ubiquitous Wellington at mid-off as Stars lurched to 82-7 in the 13th over, the cream of their batting back in the pavilion.

Ryana MacDonald-Gay skied a catch to Anderson at cover point as Griffiths made in-roads into the tail, but while Cranstone remained at large, there was hope for Stars, the experienced left hander raising a spirited 31 from 20 balls, with a quartet of fours, to frustrate the home side. She was eventually run out by Griffiths’ throw from the deep in the 18th over, her side still short of a challenging total.

Required to score at 6.6 at over, Storm were afforded the reassurance of a decent start courtesy of a second-wicket alliance of 51 in seven overs between Corney and Holland, who combined clever placement and quick running to keep up with the rate.

Playing her first competitive match since recovering from a long-tern injury, Corney oozed confidence in an innings that yielded five boundaries, while Holland adopted the role of chief support as the youngsters demonstrated maturity beyond their years to advance the score to 57-1 at the halfway stage and gradually apply pressure on the fielding side.

Stars were in need of something special and Farrant obliged, running out Corney with a brilliant pick-up-and-throw from mid-off in the eleventh over to interrupt the home side’s hitherto smooth progress. Fran Wilson succumbed to Dani Gregory’s leg breaks and skipper Sophie Luff arrived in the middle with a further 44 needed from 35 balls.

Storm’s cause was not helped by the untimely demise of Holland, who was held at extra cover off the bowling of MacDonald-Gay in the 16th over, but Griffiths hit the ground running, helping herself to boundaries at the expense of Franklin and Tilly Corteen-Coleman to keep the home side in the hunt.

Luff drove MacDonald-Gay for four in the penultimate over, but Stars held their nerve under pressure and the home side were required to score 10 off the final over, sent down by veteran campaigner Farrant. Griffiths missed a straight delivery and was bowled for 19, Luff was run out for 14 next ball in pursuit of a second run and Farrant kept cool under pressure to restrict Storm to two runs from the final two balls and see Stars over the line.

At the close of play, Amanda Jade Wellington said: “It feels like a bit of an opportunity missed. We did really well to restrict them to 132 and that was probably our most complete bowling and fielding display of the season. We kept our discipline and our focus and did a lot of things right, but in the end, we need to be better with the bat and it’s disappointing that we left ourselves with too much to do at the death.

“It was great to see Emma Corney back in the team and she helped give us a really good start to our innings, but we were unable to maintain that early momentum through the middle overs and that’s something we need to put right if we are going to turn narrow defeats into victories in this format.

“They scored 17 boundaries to our 10 and that’s probably where we lost the game. They bowled and fielded really well and we were just not able to have that really big over that would have put us ahead of the rate.

“I always aim to be the leading wicket-taker in whichever team I play in and my role is to come on after the powerplay overs and build pressure. I felt that side of things went pretty well, but it’s a shame about the result. That said, there are plenty of good signs and positives to take into the next game. T20 can be a fickle game and the girls have learned today that there can be a really fine line between winning and losing. We will learn from this and come back stronger.”