Oval Invincibles pulled off a convincing 8-wicket win against Birmingham Phoenix at The Oval on Tuesday, handing them a first defeat of the season and pulling ahead of them in the race for a spot in the top three.
Invincibles set up the win by restricting table-toppers Phoenix to the lowest score so far in The Hundred this season – 105 for 7 – achieving the feat even with their best bowler Marizanne Kapp sitting out with “quad soreness”.
Just as they did in the 2021 competition, Invincibles are proving the value of a strong bowling unit tasked with clear plans. They are also, again, drawing on young players to achieve success – Alice Capsey, Sophia Smale and Ryana MacDonald-Gay are all ranked in the top 10 bowlers so far in the competition.
Smale was crucial today in the powerplay, helping restrict Phoenix to a score of just 23, and running out towards midwicket to take a catch off her own bowling and get rid of the exceedingly dangerous Sophie Devine. If she isn’t quite going to do a Capsey and launch a full international career within 12 months of the competition, 17-year-old Smale can at least feel fairly confident of bagging a spot in the inaugural U19 World Cup, scheduled for South Africa in January.
Smale’s brilliant diving catch to see off Georgia Elwiss, running around from short third in front of a huge crowd at The Oval, was the kind of thing we wouldn’t have seen domestic players pull off a few years ago – they’d have been overwhelmed by the occasion; and short on the requisite skill. Vive the regional system. As Syd said on Twitter, it typified a fantastic effort in the field from Invincibles, who made it very difficult for Phoenix to score freely.
In response, Invincibles got off to a flyer, helped by the fact that Sophie Devine decided to bowl Phoebe Franklin in the powerplay instead of Emily Arlott (who ended the match as by far the most economical Phoenix bowler, conceding just 8 runs off her 17 balls). Capsey showed her disdain for Franklin, getting off the mark with a huge six over long-on, as Invincibles raced to 41 for 1 in the first 25.
Phoenix did manage to peg them back after Capsey miscued Arlott to short third off the 47th ball, with Dane van Niekerk looking like someone who hasn’t batted in a cricket match for months on end – because, well, she hasn’t. But Lauren Winfield-Hill (now the competition’s third leading run-scorer, behind Wolvaardt and Dottin) eventually brought it home for her new team with 13 balls to spare. Is Winfield-Hill this season’s “best new buy”?
Hopefully van Niekerk’s time in the middle today will have helped restore some of her old confidence, after Phoenix helpfully fluffed a run out chance against her early on, allowing her to go on and make a run-a-ball 21*. Oddly, though, she didn’t bowl; it’s not clear whether that was her choice or coach Jonathan Batty’s.
What role will DvN play in the rest of the competition? An interview by Matt Roller with stand-in skipper Suzie Bates on Cricinfo, published today, is unclear on the answer to that question. Bates describes events so far in The Hundred as an “interesting time”: “It’s just one game at a time at the moment: I’m waiting to be told what the team needs from me,” she says. Hmmmmm. There is something very strange going on inside the Invincibles camp at the moment and I’m not sure we’ve got to the bottom of it yet. Watch this space.