For almost the whole of their run chase against Southern Vipers, Western Storm looked to be cruising to their 142-run target. On the two occasions their momentum was disrupted, though, one bowler was responsible: Tash Farrant.
Firstly, coming on to bowl the 11th over, with both Smriti Mandhana and Heather Knight looking set, Farrant outsmarted both – Smriti top-edging her slower ball to short fine leg, before Knight was castled 4 balls later. Then, after Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson had taken Storm to the brink, and with just 8 needed from the last 2 overs, Farrant again intervened: having Luff caught at mid off trying to go over the top, which in turn unsettled Wilson enough to run out her new partner Deepti Sharma.
It wasn’t quite enough for Vipers in the end, but Farrant – who England have, arguably, badly missed this summer after she lost her contract in February – at least gave them a sniff when it looked like the match was dead in the water. Farrant might no longer count as an “international” but she is still one of Vipers’ biggest assets.
Suzie Bates has taken on a different role at the Vipers this summer: having handed the captaincy reins over to Tammy Beaumont, she is now simply the senior pro; and she seems to be quite enjoying it: “I’m a lot more relaxed off the field!” she said at close of play today.
It’s given her time to focus more on her own game, and while her 38-ball 33 was less than fluent today – “I didn’t time it from ball 1, and then tried to overhit” – she was the player trusted by Beaumont to bowl the 20th over, with Storm needing just 2 runs from it. It seemed an impossible task, but Bates breathed life into a game that should have been done and dusted.
How did she approach it? “I’ve watched enough T20 cricket to know that you’ve just got to stay in the game,” she said afterwards. “I thought if I could bowl it full and straight – sometimes you get to that point and to finish the game as a batter is the hardest thing. I thought I had nothing to lose, and if I could hit the stumps I’d be in with a chance.”
First ball she had Wilson LBW: “I fell over with excitement that she’d missed a full and straight one! Then I knew it was going to be nervy for the batters coming in, so I had my back up and wanted to take it as deep as I could.”
Next ball was a dot, that hit incoming batsman Anya Shrubsole on the pad. Her third ball then sent Shrubsole packing, swinging and missing at yet another straight one.
Fortunately for Storm, Sonia Odedra and Naomi Dattani both kept their heads – each scoring singles, to see the visitors over the line with one ball to spare.
Interestingly, Bates has barely featured with the ball of late in T20 cricket. This was the first match in this year’s KSL in which she has been called on to bowl her full allocation. She did not bowl once for New Zealand in their T20 series against Indian in February this year, and in the World T20 in the Caribbean last November she bowled just 2 overs across 4 group stage matches.
Bates, though, wants to change that. “I want to be that bowler for the White Ferns that bowls to the death,” she said today, “so it helps to get those opportunities for the Vipers.”
New Zealand could do a lot worse.
Heather Knight and Fran Wilson have stolen the headlines on both occasions, but in Storm’s two recent run chases – against Thunder yesterday and Vipers today – Sophie Luff, coming in at number 5, has played a key role. Today, her 58-run partnership with Wilson steadied the ship at a crucial stage in the game, the pair running hard between the wickets to ensure the run rate continued to tick over.
Yesterday against Thunder, Wilson’s half-century was made with Knight at the other end: today, with Luff, she was the senior partner, which you’d think would have added more pressure. Not according to Wilson: “I didn’t feel like that really,” she said. “I’d probably say yesterday was harder.”
“I especially like batting with Luffy. She’s really good to bat with – complements our order really well, she can hit the boundaries, but I also don’t know how she gets the singles she gets – she sees the gaps that a lot of us don’t see.”
It helps that the pair have known each other since they were both playing under-12s age-group cricket for Somerset. “A bit of psychic powers there, maybe!” Wilson joked after play. “We’ve always batted well together. We both like to run well. We’re quite different as personalities as well – she keeps me quite level.”
Storm threw away the chance to reach last year’s final after they collapsed in the semi against Surrey Stars: a bit of Level Luff in this year’s competition is just what the doctor ordered.