South East Stars produced a disciplined performance in the field to beat Western Storm by six runs in a close-fought Charlotte Edwards Cup contest at Taunton’s Cooper Associates Ground.
Chasing 127 for victory, Storm were bowled out for 120 with two balls to spare, skipper Sophie Luff left high and dry on 43 not out from 46 balls, while Freya Davies, Phoebe Franklin and Dani Gregory each claimed two wickets apiece for Stars.
Orla Prendergast returned miserly figures of 2-12 from four overs as Storm produced their most incisive new-ball bowling performance of the campaign to reduce their opponents to 31-4. But Alice Davidson-Richards staged a rescue act, top scoring with 43 from 45 balls and dominating a stand of 52 for the fifth wicket with Phoebe Franklin, while Tash Farrant clubbed an unbeaten 32 to hoist Stars to 126-6.
Needing to bounce back after being comfortably beaten by Southern Vipers 48 hours earlier, Storm suffered a third defeat in four outings and are now adrift of the top four, while Stars registered their second win in five games to keep alive their hopes of progressing.
If Storm were looking to make a fast start to calm any nerves, they were made to think again as they slipped to 37-4 in 6.1 overs, Franklin and Ryana MacDonald-Gay removing openers Nat Wraith and Dani Gibson for 12 apiece and Freya Davies bowling Fran Wilson for one.
When Paige Scholfield had England captain Heather Knight caught at the wicket for 11, Stars must have fancied their chances of defending a modest total against opponents who have proved prone to batting collapses in recent times.
So often Storm’s saviour in these situations, Luff immediately set about repairing the damage, working the ball into gaps and running well between the wickets to move quickly into double figures. Having initially played a supporting role, Prendergast hoisted Scholfield over mid-wicket for a huge six and then edged for four later in the same over to afford the innings much-needed impetus.
These two had added 35 for the fifth wicket when Prendergast fluffed her lines, slapping a Dani Gregory full toss straight to mid-wicket and falling for 17 in the 12th over. Gregory made further in-roads in her next over, Alex Griffiths dancing down the track and being comprehensively stumped as Storm lurched to 78-6
Now in the company of Niamh Holland and with the asking rate above eight an over, Luff represented Storm’s last realistic chance. But she was in danger of running out of partners. Holland was run out by Davidson-Richards for seven, Lauren Filer nicked behind off Davies and Sophia Smale was bowled by Franklin, at which point Storm required a further 17 runs from 11 balls with one wicket standing.
With 12 needed off the last over, former Storm bowler Davies held her nerve as Chloe Skelton was run out to settle a tight finish in favour of the visitors.
Storm had earlier won the toss, elected to bat and made easily their best start of the season with the ball, reducing Stars to 14-3 inside four overs. Ireland international Prendergast made the initial breakthrough, bowling Stars skipper Bryony Smith with a ball that sneaked between bat and pad, and 11-1 became 11-2 when fellow opener Paige Scholfield miss-timed a pull shot and offered a straightforward catch to mid-on as Lauren Filer struck with her first delivery from the River End.
Called into the side as a replacement for the injured Sophia Dunkley, Aylish Capstone also came and went quickly, attempting to drive Prendergast and succeeding only in sending a leading edge looping to mid-on, where Sophia Smale took a tumbling catch.
Charged with the task of repairing the damage, England players Alice Davidson-Richards and Alice Capsey certainly faced an uphill task as Stars struggled to 26-3 at the conclusion of a powerplay that failed to yield a single boundary.
Realising the need to take drastic action, Capsey drove Filer for the first boundary of the innings in the seventh over, eluding extra cover by inches. But her luck ran out in the next over, off spinner Chloe Skelton inducing her to slice to point where Fran Wilson held a fine catch. Capsey had gone for 12 and Stars were under duress at 31-4.
It fell to Franklin to muster meaningful support for Davidson-Richards and the fifth wicket pair blossomed in the face of spin, finding the boundary a little more often and pushing the field back in a restorative partnership that reached 50 via 45 balls.
Adopting the role of aggressor-in-chief, Davidson-Richards plundered 10 runs from one Heather Knight over and the fifth wicket stand was worth 52 when Franklin finally succumbed, chipping Alex Griffiths meekly to mid-on and departing for 17. Looking to accelerate, Davidson-Richards followed her back to the pavilion soon afterwards, pinned lbw by the wily Gibson with the score on 95 in the 17th over.
Thereafter, Stars were indebted to Farrant, the England international demonstrating her ingenuity in plundering 6 fours and scoring at two runs a ball in a forthright innings that served to make a game of it.