By Richard Clark
We’re less than fifteen overs into the game and Central Sparks are going along quite nicely. Already 75 on the board for the loss of just two wickets, with Amy Jones on 26 and just getting going, whilst Gwenan Davies is equally set at the other end. There’s time to spare and a big score on the cards.
The wily Katie Levick is on, but not causing too many issues until, with the final ball of her second over, she entices Jones down the pitch for a lofted on drive. Whether the ball isn’t really there for the shot, or whether Jones doesn’t quite get the connection she wants, it doesn’t come off. Alex MacDonald pouches the catch at mid-on and Jones is gone for 26. Sparks subside for 144, leaving almost twelve overs unused, and Northern Diamonds canter to a nine-wicket win.
It’s harsh to blame the defeat on Jones, but equally Sparks most experienced batter has got herself out with the proverbial “all day” to bat, and left her side in a precarious position, from which they don’t emerge well.
That was last August – the opening day of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
Fast forward to the new season. Jones has already taken a century off the same Diamonds attack as her side pulled off an audacious opening day win at Headingley, and now she’s back on home turf for the first time since that costly misjudgement.
Sparks are not so well set now. 31 for two, and already into the eleventh over, the innings has started sluggishly, added a tinge of respectability only by Western Storm’s generosity with their ‘wides tally’. Almost immediately she loses another partner in the cruellest of circumstances, slamming a straight drive back at Dani Gibson, which the bowler manages to divert onto the stumps to run out Davies. 41 for three.
For too long, perhaps, there was a tendency to think that England were lucky to have such a capable deputy to Sarah Taylor, when what we should have been thinking was that we were lucky to have such a capable Amy Jones. Jones is too good, too talented, to be thought of as anybody’s deputy. One wonders whether this mindset seeped into her own thinking – she’s always seemed to lack the ‘swagger’ of a player who knows she belongs on the international stage.
We are about to see Amy Jones swagger.
After 18 overs, at 60 for three, there’s still more splutter than spark about the home side’s innings, and with the inexperienced Milly Home for company much rests on Jones’s shoulders. As if to emphasise the point, Gibson puts down a difficult caught and bowled chance when she is on 14, and the next ball sails over mid-on for four. It’s not the start of the onslaught, not yet, but it is a turning point.
Two overs later Jones lofts Gibson for the first six of the match, then adds a boundary to rub it in. Mollie Robbins replaces Gibson, and Jones puts her into the Hollies Stand for another six. Before much longer she has her fifty, at exactly a run a ball, unperturbed by the loss of Home along the way.
This is the sort of innings Amy Jones has played more than once for England, the sort where she looks so good… and then gets herself out. She nearly does exactly that here too, driving Hennessy into the hands of the diving Lauren Filer at mid-off. But Filer spills what was, in fairness, an awkward chance. Two balls later Jones does it again, this time finding the leaping Heather Knight at cover. This one is not a difficultcatch but the England skipper can’t hold on, nor can she at the second grab as the balls falls to the ground. There’s a third drop soon after, but this one is by a gentleman in the Hollies Stand, and he’s excused by an understandable preoccupation with the pint in his other hand. There won’t be any more chances.
The hundred comes off 83 balls – perfect acceleration – and Storm have no answers. The next fifty runs take just twenty deliveries, including three more sixes, ramps, scoops, drives, and a baffling – to us mere mortals – reverse sort-of-pull off Shrubsole, if you don’t mind, to bring up the 150.
Only now does she tire a little. I kid you not that at one point I was seriously doing the maths to work out whether a double-hundred was within range, but in the end she ‘makes do’ with 163 not out. A record for the competition, and one that somebody will need to bat very well to beat. The ovation from the 250-strong crowd is warm and genuine, and to a man, woman and child it’s a standing one.
Sparks total of 295 for seven proves beyond Storm’s reach, although Knight does her best to atone with 59 in a century opening stand, and her opening partner Lauren Parfitt is unfortunate to fall for 91 – by some margin the highest score by a non-professional so far in this season’s competition – just as she and Sophie Luff are positioning their side well for the closing stages.
From 183 for one, Storm lose wickets regularly as Ria Fackrell in particular puts the squeeze on. Fackrell was the sixth bowler used, having taken none for 50 off seven overs against Diamonds two days previously. Here she picks up four for 34 at a time when Eve Jones might have been wondering who to turn to.
But this was Amy Jones’s day, one that she should remember every time she goes out to bat, because Jones is as naturally gifted a batter as England have in their ranks. If she needed proof of that herself, she has it now.