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Fran and Heather steer Storm to victory

England colleagues Heather Knight and Fran Wilson staged a brilliant recovery as Western Storm beat Lancashire Thunder by six wickets to extend their 100 per cent record in KIA Super League matches at the Cooper Associates County Ground.

Sune Luus top-scored with 62 from 48 balls to help Thunder, seeking their first  success in five meetings with Storm, to post a competitive 141 for six after winning the toss and electing to bat on a drying pitch.

However, her efforts were eclipsed by Knight and Wilson, who both scored half centuries and staged a restorative stand of 88 in 11.3 overs for the third wicket. Wilson posted 54 from 35 balls, while Knight finished unbeaten on 50 as Storm reached their target with three balls to spare.

Required to chase 142 at 7.1 runs an over, Storm were well and truly up against it after slumping to 18-2 inside four overs, star openers Smriti Mandhana and Rachel Priest both suffering rare failures.

Leading run-scorer in KSL a year ago, India star Mandhana gave Sophie Ecclestone’s slow left arm the charge and was superbly caught by compatriot Hermanpreet Kaur at long-on for two. Big-hitting Priest followed two overs later, chipping Emma Lamb’s off spin to cover point for 12.

Keeping their cool in trying circumstances, Wilson and Knight saw off the dangerous Ecclestone and proved adept at finding the gaps as they advanced the score to 58 for two at halfway.

Wilson brought up her 50 with her eighth four, only to then offer a return catch to Alex Hartley with 36 more runs needed from 27 balls.

Somerset’s Sophie Luff calmed any nerves thereafter, scoring 22 from 13 balls to see her side to within sight of victory. Calm under pressure, skipper Knight hit the winning runs, driving Kate Cross to the boundary in the final over to raise 50 from 52 balls.

Desperate to make ammends following back-to-back defeats at the hands of Southern Vipers and Surrey Stars, Thunder were rather more competitive on this occasion, thanks in large part to South African international Luus.

Intent on establishing herself beneath lowering skies, the 25-year-old all-rounder played a perfectly-paced innings, relying on clever placement and quick running between the wickets before accelerating during the middle overs.

She dominated a progressive second-wicket stand of 66 in 11 overs with Tahlia McGrath, raised her first KSL 50 from 42 balls and then went on the attack, accruing three fours and four sixes before dancing down the wicket to Claire Nicholas and top-edging to short fine leg in the 15th over with the score on 98 for three.

A perfect foil for Luus, McGrath compiled 22 from 30 balls, helping to provide a platform for India World Cup star Hermanpreet Kaur. Finishing the innings with a flourish, Kaur contributed a quickfire 30 from 18 balls, with a quartet of fours, to ensure Thunder posted a meaningful total.

Electing to put their faith in spin, Storm benefited from taking the pace off the ball, the naggingly accurate trio of Nicholas, Knight and Deepti Sharma returning combined figures of 68 for three from 12 overs.

So often an unsung hero, Welsh off spinner Nicholas claimed two for 25, including 16 dot balls, and weighed in with a catch, while India recruit Sharma kept things tight to finish with one for 22 from four overs.

After hitting the winning runs Western Storm Captain, Knight said: “Those were difficult conditions to bat in and I think I only middled two balls in my entire innings. The pitch was slow and, when the bowlers took the pace off, it was tricky getting the ball away.

“We were under quite a bit of pressure when Fran came in and she played an amazing innings. She took the pressure right off me and helped break the back of that run chase. Sophie Luff was just what we needed at the death and she came in and finished things off really well.

“It’s important to show that we can win games in different ways. Smriti and Rachel so often score big runs for us at the top of the order, and it’s really unusual to see Fran coming in during the powerplay. We were up against it, but showed our depth today.

“Taking the pace off the ball was key on that pitch and Claire and Deepti played a big part in restricting Thunder to just under a par score. It was especially difficult for the quicker bowlers to maintain control in the high winds, so it was important the slower bowlers did their job.

“We love playing in Taunton, and it’s now seven wins out of seven for us here. The crowd always get behind us and it feels a bit like a fortress.”

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