Southern Brave sent out a clear signal in Saturday’s match at the Ageas Bowl, beating their nearest rivals Northern Superchargers by a mammoth 7 wickets with 13 balls remaining (D/L method). If all goes according to form, these two sides will be meeting again at the final in two weeks time… and on Saturday’s showing, you’d have to say that there is only going to be one winner of the inaugural Hundred (Women’s Competition).
The celebrations from Sophia Dunkley and Maia Bouchier in the middle as Dunkley hit the winning run, simultaneously bringing up her half-century, signalled that this win meant a great deal. If Brave have been following Syd’s Table Analysis Software (TM), they will know that even with 5 wins from 6, they are not yet quite mathematically guaranteed qualification – but with it now a 99% certainty, you’d forgive them if they spent Saturday evening with a few celebratory beers in the dressing room.
Dunkley’s 50* from just 28 balls, at a strike rate of 179, makes her only the fourth English player (after Danni Wyatt, Alice Capsey and Nat Sciver) to rack up a half-century in the tournament. Dunkley’s calling-card has always been her ability to make runs in domestic cricket – she did it in the Women’s County Championship, she did it in the Kia Super League. She now has an England spot nailed down, but her approach hasn’t changed, as demonstrated when – walking out at 5 for 2 – she slammed her first ball (from Linsey Smith) for six.
“The way I play, I want to be aggressive and put the pressure back on the bowlers – I think that’s one of my strengths and I back myself to do that,” she said after the match. “I’m trying to keep it the same old and bat how I’ve always batted and be positive and stick to my strengths, and don’t go too far away from that.”
Dunkley was made Match Hero, but credit should go to Maia Bouchier too, who made 33 not out from 19 balls and helped make what could have been a tricky chase look easy. The pair spent years batting together in age-group for Middlesex – Dunkley described today’s partnership as “rolling back the years” – and their easy communication helped them run hard in a chase when quick singles mattered.
They were assisted by some shoddy fielding by Superchargers. Dunkley was put down twice on 14* by Alice Davidson-Richards, who shelled two return catches off her own bowling – the second one admittedly a tough chance above her head. Another culprit was 19-year-old Bess Heath, who clearly isn’t enjoying being pushed out of her natural wicket-keeping role. Given that Lauren Winfield-Hill isn’t even England’s “back-up” keeper anymore, it seems bizarre that she has taken the gloves in this tournament. Why not let Heath do what she does best, instead of trying to “hide” her in the field?
Another strange captaincy decision came when, at another crucial moment in Brave’s run chase, Winfield-Hill handed the ball to left-arm seamer and debutant Rachel Slater, asking her to bowl balls 41 to 45. The ground announcer failed to recognise her, introducing the bowling change as “Katie Levick”; five balls later, Slater might well have been thankful for the pseudonym – tonked for 15 runs by Dunkley. Before her “five”, Brave needed 46 from 35 balls; afterwards, the equation was 31 from 30 – a walk in the park for a pair of established batters.
Slater was always going to be nervous, playing her first tournament match in front of 7,500 spectators – so why choose that point to introduce her? Interestingly, Dunkley admitted afterwards that she had deliberately targeted Slater. “I’ve never faced her before, I looked at footage yesterday and this morning,” she said. “Being a first game debut, it was the end to target. The bowlers they’ve got are quite experienced so we tried to be tactical about that.”
The Southern Brave “party line” is a consistent one in post-match pressers right now, and Dunkley repeated it again on Saturday: “I don’t think we’ve had a proper complete performance yet throughout the competition.” This message is clearly coming from coach Charlotte Edwards, who is nothing if not a perfectionist. And yet, if this is really is Brave putting in “incomplete performances”, you have to pity the team who come up against them when they do manage that illusive “complete” one.