Almost exactly a year to the day since her last Western Storm innings, Heather Knight was the key player with 91 not out as her side beat the South East Stars in the opening round of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
Invited to bat first after losing the toss under cold, grey skies, at Beckenham, the Stars posted 166 all out off 48.1 overs, after recovering from 55-5 thanks to 38 from former England star Susie Rowe and 37 from captain Tash Farrant, with allrounder Georgia Hennessy taking 4-31 off 8.1 overs for the Storm.
It was quickly apparent that it wasn’t anything like enough, as Knight and Fi Morris put on 78 for the first wicket in reply, before Morris ran herself out, taking on the arm of England seamer Freya Davies at mid on, for 27. Wickets did then start to fall, with the Storm middle order of captain Sophie Luff, Georgia Hennessy and Nat Wraith all going cheaply for single figures, but Knight pushed on relentlessly, unperturbed by the losses around her, to chalk up the Storm’s win with more than 10 overs to spare.
Ultimately the Stars paid the price for a lacklustre start to their innings. The first boundary of the day didn’t come until the 5th over, with Alice Capsey slapping a George full toss through the covers for 4, and the Stars reached 10 overs with no further wickets down, but with just 27 on the board for the loss of 1 wicket – England batter Bryony Smith caught at deep midwicket by Alex Griffiths, playing a lazy slog-sweep to the bowling of Katie George, for 5 off 13 balls.
Capsey looked to get a move on, hitting her second delivery from Hennessy for 4, but was then caught by Sophie Luff off the very next ball trying to go over cover. The wickets of Sophia Dunkley (5), Aylish Cranstone (14) and Alice Davidson Richards (6) fell in quick succession, leaving the Stars in some trouble on 58-5 at the 20-over mark.
It was left to Susie Rowe to try to pick up the pieces for the Stars. The 33-year-old former England batter, playing the first professional match of her comeback after focusing mainly on hockey for the past 6 years, quickly raced into the 30s but couldn’t push on, falling to a sharp return catch to offspinner Fi Morris.
Tash Farrant was at least able to shepherd the tail past 150, supported by Freya Davies’ half-marathon 12 off 50 balls, before Farrant was last out, run out for 37 by Niahm Holland.
After that it was all about Heather Knight, who set out her intent early in the Storm reply, clobbering Tash Farrant for 4 through cover point in the opening over. It was however a controlled chase – Knight took few risks and gave few chances. She was dropped on 32 – a tough caught & bowled chance to Grace Gibbs – but otherwise she played clinical cricket, only really hitting out on what proved to be the final ball – a slog-sweep to cow corner for 4 to bring up the win.
In addition to Morris’ contribution at the top of the order, Knight was assisted at the end by Katie George who hit 19 not out, including a lovely cut through the covers off Tash Farrant to bring up the 150.
None of the Stars attack really hit the mark, albeit having had to do much of their work bowling in heavy drizzle during the second half of the Storm innings, with Bryony Smith’s return of 1/11 off 4 overs, and Tash Farrant’s 1/29 off 9 overs, the pick of the figures.