KSL: Stars v Storm – Sophia Dunkley Making Her Name In Super League

When I interviewed Sophia Dunkley 4 weeks ago, she said that she was keen to use this year’s Kia Super League to help stake her claim on an England place. In her words: “It’s about making a name for myself and getting a bit more noticed.”

Last night, in front of thousands of viewers live on Sky, she got noticed.

With 3 runs needed off the last 3 balls, and with Dunkley on strike to the world-class Anya Shrubsole, the pressure for most of those in the ground was almost unbearable. But Dunkley, cool as a cucumber, drove the ball through the covers for four to win the match for her side, and to take Surrey Stars through to Finals Day.

“Anya’s a world-class bowler, she can frustrate people,” Dunkley told CRICKETher after the match. “Kappie said that she was bowling into the pitch, taking some pace off, so I just tried to sit as deep as I could and hope that it was in my arc. Luckily it was.”

Coming to the crease with 19 runs still required, and with Stars’ Finals Day hopes hanging in the balance, yesterday’s 6-run cameo from Dunkley proved to be a crucial one. Even when her captain was dismissed at the other end with 9 runs still required she was able to regroup, running several hard singles between the wickets with Marizanne Kapp.

Then came that sweet shot for four and with it, relief.

Amazingly, despite those of us looking on from the sidelines being bags of nerves by that final over, Dunkley’s assessment was that: “Kapp and I were in control.”

And it’s those few words, really, that sum up the way in which Dunkley has approached this competition, and indeed approaches her cricket generally. She isn’t cowed easily. She doesn’t do “down and out”. Back on that very first day at Guildford, coming in at 18-4, it was Dunkley’s half-century which dug Stars out of a hole. Other players might have crumbled. Dunkley has the confidence to take on the world’s best bowlers, even in a sticky situation.

Captain Nat Sciver, reflecting on that innings at Guildford as well as yesterday’s performance, was full of praise for the 20-year-old: “It is hard in a T20 competition when you are batting down the order at 5 and 6 – you might not get that many balls in – but she has done brilliantly the times she has been in,” she said.

It wasn’t even Dunkley’s most crucial contribution of the day. That had come earlier in the match, when her 4 overs of leg-spin, bowled at an economy rate of 5.25, had proven critical in restricting Western Storm to a total that Stars could (just about) chase down.

Dunkley should, of course, have had the wicket of Heather Knight to her name – the England captain was dropped twice off her bowling – but even with nothing in the wickets column, the fact that Sciver trusted her to bowl a full complement of overs for the first time in the competition showed how vital her contribution was with the ball yesterday.

“She was brilliant,” said Sciver. “I wanted to keep the spin on at one end because the batters were finding it so difficult against them.”

The third edition of the Super League is not over yet, and Finals Day might well provide yet more opportunities for Sophia Dunkley, who lest we forget top-scored for Stars in last year’s semi-final.

But, whatever happens, she’s already stamped her mark firmly all over a competition that is, after all, designed as a stage for our best and brightest young talent.

England awaits.

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KSL: Stars v Storm – Stars Ride The Rollercoaster To Finals Day

In a game which mirrored a season in which they have won just 5 of their 10 matches, and yet still managed to qualify for Finals Day, Surrey Stars dug out a last-gasp win against the Western Storm with just two balls to spare, sealing 3rd spot in the group stages and a Bank Holiday trip to the seaside next weekend, where they will meet the Storm again in the semi-final in Hove.

“Everyone’s heart rate was going through the roof,” admitted Stars skipper Nat Sciver afterwards. “Those kind of games you can easily be on the losing side – a couple of things don’t go your way and that’s it – you are out of the competition!”

With the Thunder beating the Vipers at The Ageas, a loss would indeed have meant exactly that – they would have been out.

That they live to fight another day is very-much down to the leg-spinners Dane van Niekerk and Sophia Dunkley, who bowled 4 overs each for 20 and 21 runs respectively – 5 runs an over, compared to the all-but 10 an over everyone else was going at.

“After the first few overs of spin it seemed it was a bit slow and a bit of turn,” said Sciver. “So I thought: we’ve got two leg-spinners, we might as well use them – and they were finding it fairly difficult against them.”

Counterfactually, if van Niekerk and Dunkley had conceded at the same rate as the rest of the Stars attack, they would have found themselves chasing not 158, but a massive 195!

Nonetheless, the Stars still faced, if not a mountain, then a very big hill at the half-way stage – 158 was a good total on that pitch, and chasing it was never going to be straightforward.

As with the bowling, it was two performances rather than one which set them up – Lizelle Lee and Bryony Smith’s opening stand of 90 put them in a strong position at 10 overs; but with Lee’s dismissal at the end of the 10th over the chase stalled dramatically. Between the 11th and 16th overs, the Stars scored just one boundary, and the Required Rate climbed towards 9-an-over.

12 runs off the 17th over bowled by Stafanie Taylor, who was having a bit of a nightmare with the ball after having earlier conceded 22 off an over to Lizelle Lee, put things somewhat back on track for the Stars, before this rollercoaster of a match changed course yet again as first van Niekerk and then Sciver were dismissed with a handful of runs still required.

It was up to Sophia Dunkley and Marizanne Kapp to keep their eyes wide open on the final descent – 9 runs from 10 balls is one of those asks that sounds easy, until you are actually faced with it; but Kapp and Dunkley held their nerve to take the Stars to Finals Day, where they will look to make it 3-from-3 versus the Storm in the semi-final and earn the right to play for the trophy against group winners Loughborough Lightning in the final.

KSL: Deadline Day™!

It’s Deadline Day™ in the Kia Super League! With all six teams playing their final matches this evening, here’s how they stand.

Team Played Won Lost N/R NRR Points
1. Lightning 9 7 2 0 1.568 33
2. Storm 9 6 2 1 1.094 30
3. Stars 9 4 4 1 -0.479 20
4. Thunder 9 4 5 0 -0.965 17
5. Diamonds 9 2 6 1 -0.348 11
6. Vipers 9 2 6 1 -0.491 10

Tonight’s fixtures are: Diamonds v Lightning; Stars v Storm; and Vipers v Thunder

Loughborough Lightning and Western Storm have already qualified for Finals Day at Hove, but they still have everything to play for, with the winner of the group stages going straight through to the final.

The Lightning are best placed to achieve this – they travel to the Diamonds, who have said they will give games to all their squad members who have yet to play in the competition, and possibly rest Katherine Brunt – arguably making the Lightning’s task very-much easier.

If the Lightning lose, the Storm can go directly into the final by beating the Stars at The Oval. This will be a considerably less straightforward endeavour however, because the Stars have their own battle to fight in the race for the 3rd and final spot at Hove. If the Stars can beat the Storm (and remember they are one of only two sides to have beaten them so far this season, with a 7 wicket win at Cheltenham) then they will seal third-place and a trip to Finals Day.

But if the Stars lose to the Storm, then the Thunder can sneak past them with a win versus the Vipers at The Ageas – they’ve already beaten the Vipers this season, but it was a close result – the Vipers falling just 4 runs short chasing 137 up in Lancashire; so the Thunder will need a strong performance, as well as a favour from the Storm, to go through.

NEWS: Smriti Mandhana & Harmanpreet Kaur To Miss KSL Finals Day

The ECB have confirmed that both Western Storm’s Smriti Mandhana and Lancashire Thunder’s Harmanpreet Kaur will miss KSL Finals Day, due to an Indian training camp.

The Western Storm are already through to Finals Day, and Smriti has been a key player for them – with 416 runs at an average of 69, she has scored nearly half of the Storm’s runs this season. (The competition’s next-highest run-scorer is Heather Knight with 272 runs, which emphasises just how vital Smriti’s contribution has been.)

Lancashire Thunder are currently 4th in the table, so will only make Finals Day if they win and the currently 3rd-placed Stars lose their last group match on Saturday. Although Harmanpreet has been a bit hit and miss – there have been some dodgy run-outs and a couple of ducks – she also won them two games, against the Stars at The Oval, where she closed-out the game with 34* at the death, and against the Diamonds at Blackpool, when she struck 74 off 44 balls to top-score.

The scenario, which mirrors the situation faced by the Sydney Sixers in the 2017/18 WBBL when they lost Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk for the latter stages of the competition, will certainly leave many fans – who may have bought tickets hoping to see Smriti in particular – disappointed, and perhaps reinforces the need for a “window” for these tournaments.

KSL: The Race For 3rd Place

With the top two teams – Storm and Lightning – already qualified for Finals Day, today is a crucial day for the rest in the race for the third and final spot at Hove.

Here’s how they currently stand.

Team Played Won Lost N/R NRR Points
1. Storm 8 6 1 1 1.796 30
2. Lightning 8 6 2 0 1.325 28
3. Stars 8 3 4 1 -0.59 16
4. Thunder 8 3 5 0 -1.144 13
5. Diamonds 8 2 5 1 -0.334 11
6. Vipers 8 2 5 1 -0.528 10

All 4 “racing” teams play each other this afternoon – Vipers v Stars & Thunder v Diamonds – and right now, all 4 could still qualify.

Although the Stars have their destiny in their own hands, they can only qualify today if they win with a bonus point and the Diamonds win without a bonus point.

Any win for the Stars will however knock the Vipers out of contention.

Any win for the Thunder will knock the Diamonds out too whatever happens (because Thunder would then have an unassailable 17 points); but the Thunder could lose and still go through if other results go their way at the weekend.

FEATURE: CRICKETher Editor Raf Nicholson Plays Women’s Soft Ball Cricket

Writing about cricket is one thing; but sometimes there is nothing quite the same as getting out there and playing it. I do plenty of the former, but there are times when I miss picking up a bat.

Last summer, the ECB launched its first Women’s Soft Ball Cricket Festivals: an initiative designed to get more women of all abilities playing the sport in a fun, relaxed environment. This year the scheme has been expanded, with hundreds of Soft Ball Festivals taking place across the country.

I last played cricket years ago, at university; my late entrance into the game (years of Nicholson Beach Cricket, but no formal coaching) meant that I was never destined for greatness. The problem for women like me is finding a route in to club cricket: how do we work out where our nearest club side is? And would we find a welcome there if we did?

Soft Ball Cricket is the perfect initiative in that respect: “It’s a game for absolutely everybody, no matter your skill level, fitness, or age,” say the ECB.

The Festival I took part in was held at Loughborough University, right before Loughborough Lightning’s KSL match against Southern Vipers last weekend. It was a perfect representation of the all-abilities, all-ages mantra: a local club side formed one team; another team was made up of mums and daughters; and the third, my side, was formed of individuals. All three sides therefore got to play two 8-over matches.

The way in which Soft Ball Cricket works is incredibly inclusive. Everyone gets the chance to bowl an over (either underarm or overarm), and everyone bats for 2 overs, alongside a partner. If you get out, you switch ends with your partner, and wait for another opportunity in a few balls time.

Not only did we get free Loughborough Lightning t-shirts (I’ve been sporting mine ever since!) but we also got free Pimms, strawberries and cream, and free tickets to the Lightning v Vipers match afterwards, which most of us stayed on to watch, sitting in deckchairs around the boundary.

Chatting to participants on the day, motivations were varied. Some were already playing local club cricket; some had daughters who play regularly, and wanted to try it out for themselves; and some, like me, had played previously, but a long time ago, and want to try and get back into the sport. (It seems likely that some of them will get their wish, too, with several of my teammates recruited on the spot to sign up for a local Midlands-based club!)

What I loved most about the day was the supportive atmosphere. There was no embarrassment in putting down a catch, or swinging dramatically at a ball and missing it completely (guilty as charged!) My team won our first match but lost our second; but it didn’t much matter. It was just great to be out playing in the sunshine, and having fun.

The ECB should be hugely applauded for the whole initiative, which fills a big gap at the recreational levels of the game, and which I hope will lead to many more women (and girls) finding an accessible way into playing our sport.

If you want to sign up to play Soft Ball Cricket, it’s not too late! Find a list of festivals available in your area here.

KSL: Stars v Lightning – Stars Win Ugly At Guildford

In a rain-reduced 13-over match at Guildford, Surrey Stars got their 2018 KSL campaign back on track, winning in convincing if not particularly graceful fashion.

With Lightning 35-1 after the (shortened) 4 over powerplay, and Nat Sciver’s first over of the day having been punished for 19 runs, the away side initially looked on course for a good total.

Things then went from bad to worse for the Stars as Grace Gibbs, having seized the wicket of Amy Jones, went down hard attempting to field off her own bowling and had to be stretchered off to Guilford Hospital with a serious-looking knee injury.

Before play resumed, captain Nat Sciver took the opportunity to bring her side back into a huddle and try to set them back on course. “It was horrible to watch [Gibbs’ injury],” said Sciver after the match, “but we had to rally as a group.”

Rally they did, as wickets fell at regular intervals – Sophie Devine and Elyse Villani both caught in the deep; with the Stars also enacting two tidy run outs in the final over – and Lightning were eventually restricted to a total of 100-7.

Stars had won the toss and deliberately chosen to chase, with Sciver putting full faith in her batsmen: “We’ve had quite a bit of success chasing in the competition so far and we’ve got a long batting line-up,” Sciver said.

Yet the 62-run partnership for the first wicket between Lizelle Lee and Bryony Smith was built more on good fortune than good cricket. Smith was dropped off successive Devine deliveries when on 5*, top-edging to Jones behind the stumps and then put down by Rachael Haynes at extra cover; she was subsequently dropped AGAIN by Villani at long on, when on 21*. When the speaker system blasted out Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer after she was finally dismissed by Jenny Gunn for 31 in the 8th over, it seemed rather apt.

Lee was the woman of the hour, fresh from her 37-ball 70 in Stars’ previous match v Thunder on Tuesday, and one of the players in the competition most capable of taking full advantage of the 13-over situation. Certainly Syd and I, sitting on the long off boundary, were very conscious that we might well be in her “firing line”!

But she, too, enjoyed her fair share of good fortune, also put down when still in single figures; and while she did eventually produce some of the huge boundaries she is renowned for, including one six over deep midwicket that nearly ended up in Woodbridge Road, today’s 28-ball 48 was probably overall still more slog than skill.

Nonetheless a win is a win and, crucially, today’s result (along with Thunder’s loss to Storm over in Taunton) takes Stars back up into third position, and well in the running to claim their spot at Finals Day.

KSL: Thunder v Stars

Martin Saxon reports from Old Trafford

A winning margin of 55 runs is certainly a ‘thrashing’ when it comes to T20, and by triumphing by this margin Surrey Stars moved within one point of third-placed Lancashire Thunder. It was of course a much-needed victory for the Stars, while things are looking a bit more precarious for the Thunder, especially as they now face away trips to both of the top two sides.

When Sophie Ecclestone was deservedly named Player of the Series in the recent international tri-series, there was at least one batsman who had not been bamboozled by her bowling. South Africa and Stars opener Lizelle Lee is certainly a superb player of spin bowling, and it’s easy to imagine that she was licking her lips here against a Lancashire side who have only one seam bowling option, where once again Old Trafford’s playing area was akin to a postage stamp in size.

After a relatively sedate powerplay, Lee actually decided to accelerate once the boundary was well patrolled. Even her most ardent admirers may not suggest that the South African possesses an array of elegant shots, or that she scores all around the ground, however although her wagonwheel here would have showed a significant number of runs hit over ‘cow corner’, it really didn’t matter. Thunder posted the boundary riders in the right areas, but it didn’t seem to stop her at all – Lee just hit the ball way over their heads! Her blistering innings of 70 from just 37 deliveries included six maximums, and even Sarah Taylor was reduced to simply working the ball for singles to give her partner the strike.

Lee is certainly a major asset to any team at any level, but if she was English (or Australian), would she be rejected as an international player due to a perceived lack of athleticism?

After Lee had finally holed out in the deep, her brute force was replaced by some superb stroke making from both Taylor and Dane van Niekerk, whose combination of dabs, sweeps, ramps and more conventional shots such as drives and cuts ensured that the scoreboard operators remained busy. Taylor made 51 from 37 balls and although van Niekerk only made 19, she had certainly played her part in entertaining the crowd and the watching TV audience.

Five wickets fell in the last three overs, so the final total of 167-8 was lower than might have looked likely just a short time earlier. Emma Lamb added to her growing reputation as a spin bowler by finishing with 2-12 – she bowled two overs at the start before Lee had opened her shoulders, and one more after she had been missed. Kate Cross (1-27) and Ecclestone (2-32) also did a reasonable job, but Danielle Hazell and Alex Hartley suffered badly against Lee’s onslaught.

So Thunder needed 168 to win, which they shouldn’t have regarded as impossible, having made just 15 fewer on the same ground four days earlier. However, their reply never really got going – Nicole Bolton and Eve Jones came out and displayed an uncanny knack of hitting the ball straight to the fielders for most of the first five overs. 

Whether wickets were falling or not, the scoring rate remained pedestrian – Bolton and Jones took 9.4 overs to add 55 for the first wicket, then in the remaining 9.4 overs, the entire Thunder team were dismissed for the addition of just 57 more.

If the run chase was looking tough when Harmanpreet Kaur came to the wicket first down with the required rate around 11, it looked even harder when the Indian start batter had once again been run out for a duck. On this occasion she never even got to take guard; once again the call from her partner was ambitious to say the least, but once again Kaur seemed extremely slow out of the blocks.

Amy Satterthwaite came in at four looking like she meant business, striking her first two deliveries for four. She was the only Thunder batsman to record a strike rate of appreciably over 100, but fell for 21 from 11 deliveries, having tried in vain to single-handedly give the innings some momentum.

Van Niekerk’s 3-20 and Bryony Smith’s 2-9 from two overs were the best of a series of excellent Surrey bowling figures.

This is the fourth time Lancashire Thunder have played what might be described as a showcase fixture at Old Trafford, and all four have resulted in defeat. Indeed only the first of this year’s matches at the Test ground could be described as being in any way a competitive match. Seeing the home side thrashed year on year is not encouraging the people of the North West to come back and watch more elite women’s cricket, and the eerie silence amongst the crowd during the stuttering run chase was far from pleasant to experience.

KSL: Vipers v Diamonds – Diamonds’ Faith In Thea Brookes Shows KSL Bridging The Gap

Yorkshire Diamonds may have fallen short today in their match against Southern Vipers, but they will take plenty of comfort from the performance of Thea Brookes.

Promoted up the order to number 4 in the absence of Lauren Winfield with (would you believe it!) food poisoning, Brookes entered the fray today with her side 15-2 and in danger of an embarrassing collapse.

But Brookes appeared unfazed, racking up 45 off 36 balls at a strike rate of 125.00, in an innings that included 7 boundaries.

“I’m so proud of the fact that the coaches can trust me to go up the order,” she reflected after the match. “It allows me to play with freedom, and that for me is a win in itself. I’m thrilled to have that opportunity.”

The highlight of her innings was a six sent back over the head of Suzie Bates to bring up 50 for the Diamonds, in an over that was punished for 13 runs and sent Vipers’ captain and senior bowler Bates out of the attack until the 18th over.

It was an impressive performance from a player who has generally hit big lower down the order in KSL, often when the result was already a foregone conclusion, but before today had never batted in the top 4 in the tournament.

“I went to the coaches and said: ‘I’m more than happy to come up the order slightly, to try and relieve a bit of pressure off the internationals,” Brookes said. “If they can come in with runs on the board it’s a bit different than if we’re losing a couple of quick wickets early.” Tactically, her promotion made absolute sense: before today in KSL 2018 Brookes had a strike rate of 164.77, higher than almost all her teammates.

Brookes was also complimentary of Katherine Brunt’s captaincy, after she stepped into the breach with Winfield out of the reckoning. Brookes had not yet bowled an over in KSL 2018 when Brunt today chose to entrust her with the 17th, at a crucial juncture in the Vipers innings.

“I thanked her in the changing rooms after,” Brookes said. “Just thanked her for the trust. It’s like having a pat on the back saying, ‘we believe in you mate, you can do this, have the ball and have a go’. It’s belief in my ability. It was so nice.”

That trust was repaid handsomely when Brookes conceded just 4 runs from her over and also picked up the key wicket of Mignon du Preez, bowling her round her legs as Vipers failed to make hay, from that over at least.

Will Brookes retain her spot at number 4 when Winfield returns to the fray? Brookes certainly hopes so: “If I can bat at 4 every game, happy days!” she said.

And from a Diamonds perspective, it also makes sense. Because in a tournament where scores above 160 are becoming the norm, it is players who can bat like Thea Brookes that are the future.

KSL: Vipers v Diamonds – Bell Sets Sail To A Promising Future

After a couple of near-misses, the Southern Vipers finally got things back on track with a win against the Yorkshire Diamonds in front of a big double-header crowd at The Ageas.

With opening bowlers Tash Farrant and Katie George both out for the rest of the season – Farrant after breaking her collarbone against the Lightning at the weekend and George with a persistent knee niggle – the Vipers handed a professional debut to 17-year-old Berkshire quick Lauren Bell; whilst at the other end of the order, the absence of Danni Wyatt for personal reasons meant Tammy Beaumont moved up to her preferred opening slot.

Beaumont made the most of her opportunity – hitting a Player of the Match-winning 64 off 37 balls – though she will be kicking herself that she got out tamely again, presenting Thea Brookes with catching practice as she failed to clear the ring.

The dismissal of Suzie Bates had already slowed down the run-rate, from 11 at the end of the powerplay to 8 at the half-way mark, and after Beaumont’s dismissal the Vipers engine was beginning to stutter; but they somehow rode the clutch just enough to avoid a total breakdown, leaving wickets in hand for a thrash in the last couple of overs.

And thrash they did – Paige Scholfield, playing in considerable pain with a broken finger, hitting 22 off 10 balls, including consecutive sixes off Katie Levick in the final over, to leave the Diamonds needing 160 on a ground which isn’t always that easy to bat on.

As Suzie Bates reflected afterwards:

“There was a point in that game where it could have gone either way, but those two sixes were massive for us – to get that score up to 160 was probably the winning of the game.”

The total still had to be defended though, and it was up to a slightly make-shift bowling unit to step up, with Lauren Bell opening the bowling on her debut.

“Lauren Bell may not have got an opportunity had Tash Farrant and Katie George remained fit,”  Bates admitted post-match.

“Sometimes you have a player like that and you maybe protect them a little bit, but today we had no choice – she was our front-line seamer – we had to open the bowling with her and she responded.”

Bell got hit for 11 off her opening over, as Beth Mooney looked to attack; but she later came back for a two-over spell which went for just 6 runs and was crucial in pushing the Diamonds’ required rate up towards double-figures. She might have finished wicketless, but she also closed her account with an overall economy rate of just 5.66 – bettered on the day only by Amelia Kerr.

Afterwards, Bell admitted the first over hadn’t gone entirely to plan:

“I hadn’t practiced loads against lefties and I was thinking ‘Don’t bowl too straight!’ but I’ll learn from it, and I think I came back strong so I’ll take it.”

“In the second two overs I went full and went for yorkers – I wasn’t thinking to bowl as quick as I could – just getting my lengths right.”

With the Diamonds chasing runs, Suzie Bates was able to clean up the tail and celebrate bowling the Yorkies out to claim the win.

“The last two games we’ve been in positions to win and haven’t been able to do it, so it’s just so pleasing!” Bates said afterwards.

As for Bell, Bates clearly believes she has a promising future ahead of her:

“She was brilliant – someone with that sort of physique, swinging the ball in – if she keeps tracking in the right direction she could play for England one day.”

We know we are biased, but we’d disagree only with the word “could” – if she keeps tracking in the right direction she will play for England one day!