Martin Saxon reports
Surrey Stars comfortably made it two wins from two, and look in fine shape going into the business end of the Kia Super League competition. Lancashire Thunder however will almost certainly need to win all three remaining matches to reach Finals Day after collapsing to a second defeat.
Many observers had tipped the Thunder for bigger things this year. However, most of their elite players are bowlers once again – Sophie Ecclestone, Danni Hazell, Kate Cross and Lea Tahuhu. Jess Jonassen is of course a more than capable batsman, but may not score fast enough for T20, leaving Sarah Taylor and Amy Satterthwaite to shoulder a large burden.
The Stars meanwhile look much more solid, with an experienced bowling attack complementing a powerful top four of Tammy Beaumont, Lizelle Lee, Marizanne Kapp and Nat Sciver.
Indeed, the period when Taylor and Satterthwaite were batting together was the only stage at which a home victory looked likely. Taylor in particular looked in fine form, but her wish to play a shot off every ball ultimately proved her downfall. At this stage, the required rate did not call for all-out attack, but after striking the first ball of a Rene Farrell over for four, Taylor still felt the need to play the ramp shot to the second delivery, and duly perished for 34 in doing so.
From 75-2 and 86-3, the Thunder’s collapse to 100 all out was a sorry tale indeed, and in no way could it be described as a good advert for elite women’s cricket. Farrell finished with 5-26, Laura Marsh with 2-12 and Alex Hartley 2-25. There was a fine catch by Lee during the collapse, then an even better take from Farrell off her own bowling to wrap things up.
The Stars had already posted a total of 133, thanks to a glut of runs early and late in the innings. Beaumont looked in ominous form as she led the way in her side scoring 50 in the six-over powerplay. Having the ‘fastest bowler in women’s cricket’ is proving more of a curse than a blessing for Thunder, for whom Tahuhu was once again wayward and expensive.
Although Ecclestone conceded only two in the seventh over, and picked up a wicket, this meant that Sciver joined Beaumont at the crease – a powerful combination by any measure. However, Beaumont was duly dismissed by Hazell for 36 in the next over. This heralded a period when the Thunder were on top, with the run rate for the period between the 7th and 16th overs barely rising above four. For all their weaknesses in other areas, the Thunder undoubtedly have a fine spin attack, with Hazell finishing with figures of 2-16 and Ecclestone a return of 1-19.
However, all that changed when the run rate increased to ten per over for the final four overs, as Sciver (40*) and Sophia Dunkley (24*) pressed the accelerator. Their efforts were more than enough to take the game away from the home side.
Emerging players watch
Dunkley played a vital role in the Stars’ acceleration in the closing overs. Evelyn Jones made 26 from 28 deliveries, with five fours, opening up for the Thunder, playing some genuinely good cricket shots rather than the usual T20 mix of big hitting and improvisation. Less positively, every bowler used in this match was already a fully capped international.
In light of this match, I am aware that comments have already been made about this issue on this site. Some players must know going into the match that they won’t be bowling, and will only be batting if their side lose a lot of wickets – this probably applied to Natasha Miles on the Thunder side and Grace Gibbs and Hannah Jones for the Stars. Quite apart from the issue of it being disheartening for the players themselves, it’s also far from ideal for their family and friends, who may have travelled significant distances and taken time off work to watch their loved ones in what should be ‘the biggest game of their lives’.
In this respect, having six teams leaves us somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Either you reduce the teams to four, and make it more of an elite competition that better showcases women’s cricket; or you have eight or nine teams, cut the England and overseas representation in each squad to two and force teams to make more use of some of their non-international players. Only in the latter case could the Super League really be said to be ‘bridging the gap’.
The match experience
Inevitably, when the match began at 2.30, a small crowd was scattered around the cavernous Old Trafford arena – all part of the trade-off that is apparently necessary to get these matches on television. Regular watchers of Lancashire CCC did comment however that the ground looked fuller than for many weekday men’s county championship fixtures.
The 90-minute gap between the women’s and men’s matches seemed almost interminable.
An on-field interview with Taylor and Hazell was broadcast on the big screen just before the men’s match commenced, and the pair did show off the World Cup trophy during that item. However, surely a trick was missed by not allowing the two players to do a full lap of the ground with the trophy?