It’s the 45th over of the Vipers’ innings, and they are 202-5 – needing just 13 runs to overhaul Lightning’s total of 214-9.
In perhaps a last throw of the dice, Lightning captain Kathryn Bryce takes the ball herself. It means she won’t bowl the final over; but unless she can produce a bit of magic, she knows the game won’t go that far anyway. And if anyone can produce that bit of something special, it’s her – last season’s top-ranked bowler in the competition.
At the other end of the pitch waits Vipers pro Paige Scholfield, playing her first List A match after having undergone back surgery over the winter. Scholfield is 32*, and although the Vipers’ claim to “bat all the way down” has a degree of plausibility, if you are the opposition, the next wicket gets you into the tail.
In her heart, Scholfield probably knows this too – though she won’t admit it to the likes of us! But it is very much on her – the Vipers have never lost in the RHF… and it is her responsibility to ensure that streak lives to die another day.
Kathryn Bryce has had a week she’d surely rather forget, with Scotland crushed 3-1 by Ireland in Belfast; but every over is a new over, and the first ball is a good one – a yorker on Scholfield’s toes, played to short mid on. No run. The second ball is similar – a low full toss. Again, no run. The third gives Scholfield an inch of width on the off side, but she can’t take advantage, and it’s another dot. The fourth is another good length delivery, which Scholfield can only play straight back to Bryce; while the fifth give Scholfield something to play at, but she hits it straight to the fielder at midwicket.
Five balls; five dots.
And now, the Sliding Doors moment…
In another world, very like the one we live in, Scholfield – who has had the reputation since breaking into the Sussex team as a teenager as a bit of a “See ball; hit ball” kind of player – looks up at the scoreboard, which hasn’t moved in 7 deliveries going back into the previous over, and starts to feel the pressure. She sees a gap in the field over mid on, and decides then and there, that’s where it’s going. As Bryce bowls, she takes a big step down the pitch, but Bryce sees her coming and holds it back just a bit – Scholfield’s huge swing of the bat takes a leading edge, and the ball balloons up into the air, with Bryce taking the catch herself – the first of 5 wickets to fall in the space of two overs, as Vipers collapse and Lightning go on to record what turns out to be only the third most unlikely victory of the day in the RHF.
But this is, of course, not that world. The Paige Scholfield of today is no longer that “See ball; hit ball” teenager – she does the maths, and calmly blocks Bryce’s final delivery. Bryce will have the maiden; but ultimately the Vipers will have the game, taking 9 off the following over to make Bryce’s next over a formality. And though the wicket of Emily Windsor gives a hint of what might have occurred, Vipers close out the win with 3 overs to spare.
Yesterday morning, Central Sparks Director of Cricket, Laura MacLeod expressed her hope on Twitter that this season we would “move the game forwards with skill & power with the bat, control and guise with the ball, agility and anticipation in the field”. Others saw those hopes played out in spades that afternoon, with remarkable come-back wins for Western Storm, and for MacLeod’s own Sparks. We weren’t at those games, but it didn’t mean we couldn’t witness, nevertheless, a little of that same skill, control, and guise… albeit carefully disguised as a determined block, in one ball faced by Paige Scholfield.