After 5 years of hurt, with Yorkshire finishing runners-up the last 3 editions of the old Women’s County Championship, and Diamonds losing the past two RHF Trophy finals, it was finally their turn on the biggest stage in English cricket – Diamonds beating Vipers by 2 runs to lift the RHF Trophy.
Batting first, Diamonds got off to a solid start. Lauren Winfield-Hill has been batting at a strike rate of over 90 all season in the competition, but Lord’s is different and finals are different, and she understood that, making her way to 65 off 87 balls, at a strike rate of 75; with Linsey Smith doing a good job keeping her company for 19 overs for the first wicket.
At 114-1 at the end of the 28th over, Diamonds were sitting pretty; but the next 3 overs saw Vipers come back into it, as Diamonds lost 4-6 collapsing to 120-5.
That could have been the end of the game – Diamonds would probably have taken 175 at that point, which Vipers would have chased easily; but Bess Heath and Leah Dobson turned things around. Both started slowly and patiently, sussing out the wicket – at the 40-over mark, Heath was on 13 at a strike rate of 36, and Dobson on 12 at a strike rate of 48. But then the foot went down, pushing Diamonds on past 175… past 200… to 215.
Post 40-overs, Dobson hit 22 off 25 balls, at a strike rate of 88, while Heath smashed (at least by the standards of the day) 31 off 24, at a strike rate of 129, as Diamonds nailed the big finish they needed.
Ironically for a 50-over game, there was rarely a better illustration of The Hundred’s mantra of “Every Ball Matters” as Dobson ran two singles off the last 2 balls (a sacrifice allowing her to get back on strike for the final delivery) which turned out to be the exact margin of victory.
In reply, Vipers were tied down by Linsey Smith, who did exactly what she has been doing all season with the ball, taking 1-8 in an initial 6-over spell in the powerplay. From 18-2 at the end of the powerplay, Maia Bouchier and Georgia Adams progressed to 98-2 at the half-way mark. Both seemed comfortable, but neither looked commanding, almost as if they were fighting over the anchor role. With the pair having played out two consecutive maidens, Bouchier attempted to break the shackles by slog-sweeping Holly Armitage – absolutely middling it with the kind force a Jedi would have been proud of… straight to Linsey Smith on the ring.
Vipers still had batting to come – Emily Windsor, Charlie Dean and Paige Scholfield can all wield a blade. In this fixture last year, it was Windsor and Tara Norris (down to come in at 8) who had closed out the game for Vipers, but the difference today was that they needed to do a bit more than “close out the game”. It was only “a bit” more – they didn’t need anyone to lead a cavalry charge – but requiring 29 off 24, they did need someone capable of taking one big over from the final 4.
Diamonds meanwhile had gambled on saving their two best bowlers – Smith and Katie Levick – for those last 4 overs. The temptation is always there to bowl someone out when they are going well, but Diamonds captain Armitage held her nerve by saving 2 overs apiece from Smith and Levick, and they repaid her by holding their nerves to close out the game.
It was a well-deserved win for Diamonds – after all those years finishing second, it finally all fell into place this season, with a strong core of domestic players (Levick, Smith, Heath and Armitage) some promising young guns (fast bowler Lizzie Scott and spinner Emma Marlow, who both did their bit today) and of course Lauren Winfield-Hill, who now has both the big domestic trophies (the Hundred and the RHF) on her mantlepiece, having played a key role in the acquisition of both this summer.
Top-level sport has a cruelty all of its own, and Lauren Winfield-Hill knows that better than anyone. A place in the England XI is always ephemeral – but those trophies… like diamonds… are forever.