Momentum is a funny thing – just ask the next asteroid you meet! One minute you’re hurtling through space, with more of it than you know what to do with, the next you’re splattered all over the Yucatan Peninsular, taking the entire dinosaur genus out with you. Ouch!
And “Ouch!” probably sums up how the Oval Invincibles are feeling right about now. Having won their opening two games, thanks to match-winning knocks from Dane van Niekerk and Alice Capsey, the momentum was with them. But since then they’ve fallen short twice, chasing low totals – falling 4 runs short needing 110 versus the Superchargers, and 12 runs short chasing 113 against the Fire on Monday.
The result blows the race for third place wide open, with Fire, Invincibles and Rockets all level on 4 points.
Although Sarah Taylor was today’s Player of the Match, catching the eye with a couple of those reverse cuts we first saw when she was playing for the Diamonds earlier this year in the regional T20s, there were other contributions that were equally important.
Georgia Redmayne and Hayley Matthews helping themselves to 24 runs off a 10-ball spell from Grace Gibbs, between balls 30-40, was hugely significant in a low-scoring game. With an “average” 10-ball spell going for just 11 runs on Monday, that extra 13 was critical, and of course later proved to be almost the exact margin of victory.
Nonetheless, 112 felt significantly below par – a calm, sensible batting performance from the Invincibles was all it was going to take to chase them down at little more than a run a ball.
Instead, they got off to a disastrous start – losing Georgia Adams for a duck thanks to some brilliant glove-work from Sarah Taylor, who turned a fumble and a slightly wayward return from Nicole Harvey into a run-out from nowhere as Adams ambled back to her ground. (Adams, who played with Taylor at Sussex for over a decade, really should have known better!)
Nonetheless, Alice Capsey and Grace Gibbs looked to be getting things back on track, until Capsey was bowled by Harvey for 14 off 12. Capsey was the last Invincibles batter (until Jo Gardner came in at the end with the game already gone) to hit at a Strike Rate of more than 100, and while it is true that the Invincibles didn’t need to go at 100mph, they did at least need to go at something close to a run-a ball in order to give themselves a chance at the death.
Fran Wilson’s role probably isn’t to do that, so she can be forgiven for going at a Strike Rate of 87 and trying to anchor the innings; but it is hard to say the same about van Niekerk, who made 8 off 16 balls before she was put out of her misery. Harvey, who finished with two wickets but more importantly conceded just 11 runs from 15 balls, was another vital spoke in the wheel of victory.
And of course Katie George also did her bit. Unable to bowl due to injury, she has been relegated to the role of specialist boundary rider so far during this tournament, but she made it count against Invincibles with 3 catches to dismiss van Niekerk, the dangerous Mady Villiers and Tash Farrant.
She also did it against the backdrop of a wickedly partisan 10,000-strong crowd, many of whom were actively willing her to fail – not something we’re used to seeing in women’s cricket in England, even at international level during the Women’s Ashes.
Talking about it after the game, George said: “I was getting a little bit of stick, but personally, I relish it – I feel I play my best cricket when there are people watching, and it definitely spurs me on to do well. I take it all in good spirit – I know if I was in the crowd watching, which I often am, I’d be giving it the same.”
It’s the right attitude to have, and obviously it is par for the course in something like the men’s T20 Blast for example, but it does feel like a slightly odd sort of progress towards equality compared to the KSL, where even on Finals Day, crowds would cheer but never jeer.
Next up for the Fire is the Trent Rockets on Friday. With both sides currently separated only by Net Run Rate in the race for 3rd, it’s a proper “Four Pointer” which could well end up being the difference between a spot in the 2nd v 3rd “Eliminator” or a taxi home. They remain the underdogs, but if the Fire can pull off another win then that 3rd place will be theirs to lose.