James Piechowski reports from the Ageas Bowl.
Result: Southern Vipers (156-4) beat Loughborough Lightning (97) by 59 runs
Both sides may have already qualified for finals day going into this match, but it was far from a dead rubber. The sizeable crowd that turned up on a hot Sunday afternoon in Southampton saw a superb display with bat and ball, and in the field, from the Southern Vipers.
It was still possible for either side to top the table with a win here (or, indeed, Western Storm to spoil the party with a big win of their own at Headingley against the Diamonds, in the event of a close game here). But in the end, the Vipers were not in the mood to let anything slip, and had too much for a Lightning side that may have been a bit unlucky with the bat, but gave probably their weakest display yet otherwise.
The Ageas Bowl pitch, slow as is often the case these days, had a tinge of green on it this time, and seemed to contain more runs for the Vipers, as they got off to a solid start. Charlotte Edwards, who missed the first 2 batting innings for the Vipers due to injury, has since got going with her run-scoring but is still not looking at her fluent best.
It was Suzie Bates, the irrepressible captain of New Zealand, that got Vipers off to a flyer, taking them to 64/1 in the 8th over before falling to Sonia Odedra. Scoring 38 off 24 balls, she drove serenely over the top and along the deck, striking 6 fours and a massive 6 over long-off. Georgia Adams provided capable support, with a cameo of 17 before Sara McGlashan (34*) and Lydia Greenway (29) took over, both testing out the ground-fielding skills of the Lightning by working the ball around adeptly into gaps, running hard for ones and twos. They added 62 together in 8.3 overs, and by the time Becky Grundy bowled Greenway going for another reverse, Vipers had already scored 142. Lightning had hardly been ragged in the field, but after Bates’ blitz, they were simply pulled from pillar to post by two of the women’s game’s great accumulators.
Lightning captain Georgia Elwiss tried everything she could to mix up the bowling and keep the attack unpredictable, and indeed it was the 8th over before Lightning used a bowler for a second over. They are a truly flexible bowling unit – a characteristic obtained by possessing so many quality all-rounders.
But here it was only Odedra (1-20) and Grundy (2-24) who really managed to contain the Vipers. The others delivered a few too many wayward balls. Maybe they have too many bowling options, meaning that on game days, it’s difficult to choose who to turn to. In any event, Vipers finished on 156/4, a daunting total and their highest yet in the KSL.
Lightning got off to a decent start, and it took until the fifth over and the introduction of Linsey Smith (3-16), the slow left-armer, for the wickets to start falling. Smith dismissed Van Niekerk and Devine, both internationals, clean bowled, and went on the take the vital wicket of Eve Jones. Unerringly accurate, Smith attacks the stumps effectively and has enough subtle deception to best top-line batsmen. There is some debate about whether she would be able to continue this at international level, or if she would be rapidly found out. But in either case, she is clearly enjoying herself, and we won’t know what she could do until she is given an opportunity to play with an England development squad. England coach Mark Robinson, who was at this game, would have at least taken note of this upcoming prospect.
It was Eve Jones (33 from 31) who most impressed me for the Lightning, with the bat. Mainly an off-side player, Jones the left-hander has a free-flowing, languid style which is not dissimilar from current England men’s favourite Moeen Ali. Hence, she is very aesthetically pleasing to watch. With her nonchalant, almost casual approach, I have no doubt she will give some chances away, but if she gets in, could score many runs. She was sent back to the dugout by Smith, adjudged lbw, and in came her namesake Amy with the score on 36-3. Eve had scored 33 of those runs.
Ellyse Perry came to the crease in the 5th over, and did not leave until the 18th. She played a customary calm, composed innings. I sense she was somewhat subdued, content to score solidly at a run a ball and anchor the innings. She had hoped for more cameos to support her, and it was only when she started to run out of partners that she decided to go big. Perry managed to hit a couple more boundaries, but it wasn’t enough and in the end she holed out to Brindle (3-24), only finding the safe hands of Suzie Bates in the deep on the leg side.
Arran Brindle, the former England all-rounder, can seemingly do no wrong. She looks dynamic at the crease, missing out on nothing, and is dependable with the ball, proving difficult to get away. Amy Jones, having struggled to get going, was dismissed when she was bowled trying to cut her away. After the fifth wicket was down, Lightning were in the position of needing 83 from 6 overs, an unlikely task, and so it proved. Paige Scholfield and Thea Brookes, having made a very close chase against the Thunder, got no luck this time and in the end Lightning finished tamely, bowled out for 97.
Vipers had produced a brilliant bowling and fielding display, dropping a couple of tough chances, but it was of little concern, as most of the shots that Lightning played in aerial fashion seemed to home in towards a grateful Viper’s hands. The Vipers bowlers’ figures also included 2-11 for Bates, and 1-15 for a continually impressive Katie George.
Vipers go into the KSL final next Sunday at Chelmsford, full of confidence. They are a tough side to beat and can make a solid innings total, from bad starts and good starts alike. In the field they are tight and organised, and give away little with the ball. As for Lightning, they will want to take their learnings and quickly forget this disappointing performance. They can then focus on challenging a strong Western Storm side in their semi-final, so that they take some momentum into a potential return fixture of this match and can – they will hope – take revenge.