At the mid point in the English summer, half way through the Hundred, the twin “Southern” teams – Brave and Vipers – were, if not “on top of the world”, on top of all the bits of it that mattered: in first place in the Hundred, leading their group in the Charlotte Edwards T20 Cup; and at the top of the table in the 50-over RHF Trophy.
But disappointment followed in both the Hundred, beaten by Oval Invincibles in the final at Lords, and the CE Cup, knocked out in the semi-final by Northern Diamonds.
And with 10 overs to go in the RHF final, it was looking like a hat trick of finals day defeats was on the cards – Vipers were 126-7, still needing 58 runs to win, with the Diamonds clear favourites.
But 9.4 overs later, it was the Vipers who were walking off to collect the trophy, leaving the northern side to contemplate having finished runners-up in England’s List A competition for 5 consecutive years – as Yorkshire, finishing second in the County Championship in 2017, ’18 and ’19; and as Diamonds, defeated by Vipers in the RHF final in 2020 and now ’21.
“I never ever think we’re down and out, but I knew it was an uphill task,” admitted Vipers coach Charlotte Edwards as her team celebrated with the trophy on the outfield at Northampton. “It was one of the most unbelievable games of cricket – two really good teams who fought hard. Both teams probably thought they’d won it at times, but we’re really thankful to come out on top.”
The keys to the win were Emily Windsor and Tara Norris, who shared an unbeaten stand of 78 to grind out the most unlikely come-back win from 7 wickets down.
“I came down to the dug-out and said ‘We’ve got to take this as deep as we possibly can, and back ourselves’,” said Edwards, “and that’s what they did.”
Tara Norris, speaking with her winner’s medal around her neck, reflected her coach’s words: “I said to Winnie [Emily WIndsor]: ‘We’ve just got to take it deep.’ We knew that if we batted the 50 overs we’d win the game so it was about just holding our nerve.”
For Norris, the experience of losing on finals day twice already this season was a huge motivation: “I knew I didn’t want to feel that way again, so for me it was that grit that I wouldn’t walk off the pitch until the game was over.”
Although the Vipers were chasing a relatively low total, which Norris admitted they would have taken at the start of the day, the Diamonds bowlers didn’t make it easy at any stage, with Jenny Gunn and Katie Levick between them bowling 20 overs, taking 4-51; but crucially Diamonds gambled on bowling both out early, leaving Norris and Windsor to face slightly easier options in the run-in.
“Winnie was getting a little bit stressed,” admitted Norris, “but I just told her: ‘It’s a run a ball, we’ve done this thousands of times, we’ve got this.’ It was just being smart and thinking: Katie Levick and Jenny Gunn have got two overs left, one over left – let’s not take them on – let’s see them off and take the game as it comes and try and attack a different bowler.”
Which they did, taking 10 runs off Linsey Smith in the 49th, leaving them needing just two to win in the final over bowled by Beth Langston. Langston had bowled really well up-top, taking two wickets in her first two overs, but with the ball now old, she couldn’t quite generate the same zip she’d achieved earlier, allowing Windsor to hit the winning boundary off the 4th ball and seal the title.
It was a satisfying moment for the coach.
“I’m so proud of them all – we’ve had a great season, we’ve only lost one 50 over game, and to come out under that pressure to win it… I’m a bit lost for words! It makes all those winter months and all the hard work we’ve done truly worthwhile.”
Yes, it was a low-scoring thriller! This Northampton pitch isn’t always the easiest to bat on. Diamonds played well and were yet again unlucky not to win one of these finals. In their innings, one of the turning points was Heath’s dismissal – she’d played well up until that point and I think the lbw decision was a bit unfortunate. It looked a bit legside to me. After that point Diamonds rapidly collapsed and only a bit of stubborn hanging around from Levick and Slater allowed Ami Campbell to get the majority of runs at the other end. A fine effort from her. For the Vipers bowlers, no-one let the side down. Adams’ 4-35 catches the attention most but I thought Bell actually bowled well and looked dangerous – she was unlucky not to get wickets.
Vipers got themselves in some sort of position to assault the total through Bouchier and Lewis, but really it was the partnership between Windsor and Norris that was key. Norris has quietly impressed all season across the formats, and saved one of her best performances for the final, taking 2-36 and making a vital 40* in relatively rapid time. She looks a calm, capable player with some grit, innovation, and a lovely cover drive. Windsor, also multi-talented in her own way, had to dig in for a while but managed to increase her scoring rate whilst taking few risks. She strikes the ball well. It was a wonderful partnership and they judged the chase expertly.
Although Gunn and Levick bowled brilliantly, the other bowlers just leaked a few extra runs – the low total and the way the bowling changes worked out, meant that they were unable to keep Vipers under sufficient pressure to make them have to really hit out.