MATCH REPORT: Kent Exit Pursued by Bears

A battling batting performance, led by captain Marie Kelly and new recruit Jo Gardner, dragged Warwickshire over the line to beat Kent by 2 wickets at the Edgbaston Foundation Ground in the opening round of the Women’s County Championship.

Marie Kelly might have begun the day with a wild toss of the coin, forcing one of the umpires to leap out of the way, but she won the call nonetheless. The luck stayed with her until the end, when a direct hit went for 4 overthrows, and Warwickshire celebrated a victory which hadn’t all been plain sailing.

Sent into bat, Kent put on 44 for the first wicket before Molly Davies prodded a loose delivery from Georgia Hennessy into the vacant area behind midwicket. The single looked easy, and it would have been were it not for a brilliant bit of fielding from Nish Patel – a direct hit sending Davies back to the dressing room for 20.

The luck continued to flow Warwickshire’s way as Lottie Bryan played back to an unthreatening delivery from Liz Russell, pushing the ball safely out to cover, but in the process somehow managing to take out her own stumps.

The wickets came pretty easily after that, and Kent were on the ropes at 133-8 when Megan Belt came out to join Jenni Jackson in the 38th over. Belt may only be 19, but in a County Championship shorn of its international stars that makes her a senior player these days, and she looked it as she put on 66 with Jackson – making 29, including five 4s, before she was finally dismissed at the death. Jackson finished on 44*, as Kent made exactly the 200 they needed for full batting bonus points; whilst Warwickshire achieved the same with their 9 wickets.

In reply, Warwickshire lost Minahil Zahoor early, but Georgia Hennessy and Kathryn Bryce calmly took them to 47 without any real alarms. Bryce was caught mistiming a drive off Izzy Cloke for 13, bringing in Kelly who looked happy initially to let the ever-dangerous Hennessy play the leading role. But when Hennessy was out – Emily Thompson taking a low catch at backward square – Kelly began to take the initiative herself, running single after single on her way to 57 in partnership with Jo Gardner (who was on debut for Warwickshire, having signed from Northants).

As is so often the case, though, it only takes one wicket to bring two and then three, as Warwickshire collapsed from 163-3 to 167-6 and Kent were back into the game once more. Gardner rode her luck – including being dropped twice and caught off a no-ball – but she continued to play her shots as Kent began to pick off the stragglers in the tail at the other end. A drama ensued worthy of a David Attenborough voice-over – Kent chasing the final wickets, and Warwickshire just a handful of runs, with overs not an issue by this stage.

It was then – in the 47th over – that luck had its final say: a direct hit off a tight run could easily have been the final nail in Warwickshire’s coffin, but the ball ricocheted off the stumps and raced over the carpet of the outfield to the rope for 4 overthrows and the final victory to Warwickshire.

Speaking to CRICKETher after the game, Marie Kelly told us:

“I’m used to batting with Jo [Gardner] at Loughborough University and I think we work well together – we had a good partnership and I thought we were going to see it home, so it was frustrating for me to get out, but Jo saw us home.”

But for Kelly there were also lessons to be learned:

“We had them 130-8 but we just didn’t put sweepers out and they got away a bit – we need to learn from that and get the sweepers out early on – we’ll take that into tomorrow’s game [against Sussex]. Then towards the end… it has become the Warwickshire way, but rather than leaving it until the end like we did today, we need to make our wins a bit more clinical.”

Nonetheless, it was the start Warwickshire needed in the County Championship – a win against the champions, with full bonus points – and they will go into that match against Sussex full of confidence, and deservedly so.