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.

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.