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Tash Farrant made a fairytale return to cricket as South East Stars beat reigning champions Southern Vipers by four wickets in a thriller on the opening day of the 2024 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy at Beckenham.

The Greek-born England star, after missing almost two years of cricket with stress fractures of the back, struck a career-best 94, sharing a stand of 165 with skipper Bryony Smith – a record for any wicket for Stars as the hosts got home with three balls to spare.

Australian Charli Knott kept Vipers in it until the final over with a tidy spell of 2-35, but England Star Sophia Dunkley’s composed unbeaten 48 saw Stars home amid rising tension.

Earlier, Freya Kemp, a day short of her 19th birthday made a maiden list-A 50 with Georgia Elwiss 44 and Knott 41 propelling the visitors to a competitive total, Ryana MacDonald-Gay returning figures of 3-46

Ella McCaughan and Knott survived some early fishing outside off-stump to post an 80-run opening stand after Vipers were put in.

Knott impressively drove MacDonald-Gay for successive fours, one square of the wicket and another straight. However, Macdonald-Gay would have her revenge, thanks to a stunning catch by Phoebe Franklin, diving full length to grab a ball dropping over her shoulder.

McCaughan soon followed trapped lbw by Stars’ spinner Danielle Gregory, but it proved the high point for the Stars’ spinner, later banished from the attack for a second head-high full toss, the first despatched by Vipers’ skipper Georgia Adams for the day’s first six.

Adams became the first of two lbw victims for slow left-armer Bethan Miles just as she looked set to dominate but the visitors were well placed at 190-3 with 13 overs remaining.

Miles though struck again, ending Georgia Elwiss’s polished innings after which wickets fell at regular intervals, Dunkley picking up two with her leg-breaks.

That Vipers posted 273 was down to Kemp, mixing aggression with good running to reach 50 at better than a run a ball. Alice Monaghan also hoisted MacDonald-Gay for a huge six before falling to another wonderful catch from wicketkeeper Chloe Hill.

Farrant was promoted to open with skipper Bryony Smith and gave the hosts early impetus with five boundaries in the powerplay. Smith then clicked through the gears, taking two fours in an over off Mary Taylor.

Farrant won the race to 50 from 56 balls while Smith took 13 balls longer, before upping the pace, drilling Linsey Smith for two fours in an over to take Stars to 131-0 at the halfway mark.

History was made when the stand reached 156, eclipsing the 154 posted by Dunkley and Alice-Davidson Richards against Western Storm at the Oval in 2021 before the fun ended when Smith struck Adams into the hands of Monaghan at cover.

Knott quickly removed Paige Scholfield, but Farrant responded by lifting Freya Davies for a straight six as she moved into the 90s.

There would though be no maiden hundred as the excellent Knott struck again to pin the all-rounder in front for 94 with 78 needed.

As the tension mounted, Adam damaged her left hand failing to cling onto a caught and bowled chance offered by Alice Davidson-Richards, but the drop wasn’t costly as the England all-rounder was castled by Linsey Smith for just eight.

Franklin struck three fours in a rapid 19 before being run out with 14 needed from 15 but Stars got home with a scrambled leg-bye in the last over.