Sophie leads Storm to victory over Sunrisers

Sophie Luff registered a brilliant half century as Western Storm defeated Sunrisers by 42 runs at the Cooper Associates Ground in Taunton to keep alive their hopes of progressing from Group B in the Charlotte Edwards Cup.

Storm’s talismanic captain won the toss, elected to bat, top-scored with 78 from 54 balls and shared in stands of 69 and 70 with Heather Knight and Danielle Gibson for the second and fourth wickets respectively as the home side posted 169-5 in 20 overs.

For once cast in the role of chief support, Knight contributed 34, while Gibson made a valuable 26. Kelly Castle took 2-16 and Mady Villiers 2-33 as Sunrisers did their best to staunch the flow of runs.

Naomi Dattani responded with a pugnacious 53 from 51 balls and forged a stand of 56 with Castle, who summoned defiance aplenty to finish on 40 not out. But Sunrisers struggled in the face of accurate bowling from Gibson, who took 2-13, and came up short on 128-6.

Storm made an inauspicious start to their innings, Fi Morris dancing down the wicket to a wide delivery from Villiers and being comprehensively stumped by Scarlett Hughes for two in the first over. Naomi Dattani and Grace Scrivens initially kept Knight and Luff quiet as runs proved hard to come by during the first four overs.

But Knight swept and drove consecutive balls from Villiers to the boundary in the fifth to afford the innings momentum and the next two overs, sent down by Jo Gardner and Abtaha Maqsood, yielded 20 more runs as the second wicket pair found their rhythm.

Intent upon fine-tuning ahead of next month’s one-off Test match against South Africa women on this ground, England captain Knight helped herself to five boundaries and ran hard between the wickets in a workaholic alliance with Luff, which served to build a solid platform. These two propelled Storm to 71-1 at the halfway stage, but Sunrisers temporarily redressed the balance when Gardner pinned Knight in front and, in the next over, Hughes executed a smart leg-side stumping to account for new batter Fran Wilson off the bowling of Kelly Castle.

There was no stopping Luff however, Storm’s captain raising 50 from 42 balls as she pressed down on the accelerator in partnership with Gibson, who adopted a characteristically aggressive approach to put the fielding side under sustained pressure for the first time.

Luff plundered a straight-driven six off Scrivens and then clipped the next ball behind square for four as the fourth wicket partnership realised 50 from 27 balls in the 17th over. Gibson proved adept at rotating the strike as Luff, sensing a hundred might be within her grasp, launched a late assault on Sunrisers’ death bowlers.

There was palpable relief within Sunrisers ranks when Castle trapped Luff lbw with the score on 151 in the 18th over. Storm’s captain left the field to a standing ovation, having blazed 10 fours and a six in attaining her highest score of the season.

Gibson departed three balls later, the third batter to be stumped by Hughes, this time off the bowling of Villiers, as Sunrisers belatedly made in-roads. There was still time for Katie George and Georgia Hennessy to offer a late flourish, the sixth wicket pair adding 16 in nine balls to hoist Storm to an imposing total.

Storm further stamped their authority with the ball, Claire Nicholas bowling Villiers without scoring and Gibson dismissing Scrivens lbw for four as the openers perished inside three overs. Gardner played down the wrong line and was bowled by a Gibson in-swinger, at which point Sunrisers were 29-3, their reply fatally undermined by the loss of early wickets.

Former Storm all-rounder Dattani attempted to carry the fight to the home side, but the task was a demanding one when the visitors reached halfway on 48-3, requiring a further 121 at 12 an over. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old Londoner gave it her best shot, going to 50 with her ninth four and dominating a stand of 56 in eight overs with Castle, who was content to play second fiddle.

Now fully recovered from the back injury that derailed her fledgling England career, Katie George brought the fourth wicket stand to a shuddering halt, having Dattani held at mid-off to claim her first wicket of the season and reduce Sunrisers to 85-4. Georgie Hennessy produced a slower ball to account for Mia Rogers, brilliantly caught by Knight at mid-on, but the game was already up for the visitors by then.

At the close of play, Western Storm all-rounder Dani Gibson said: “That was just about the perfect team performance on a day when we really needed it. At this stage in the tournament, every game is like a semi-final and this win sets us up for games against Stars and Sparks later this week.

“We knew we had to score a minimum of 150 runs and to push on beyond that was good. Heather (Knight) and Sophie (Luff) put on a really good partnership and set it up nicely for us. Sophie was playing so well, I just tried to give her the strike and get a look in when I could. Taking those early wickets really helped take the sting out of it. I thought we fielded really well to see the game out. Katie George has had a really tough couple of years with injury and for her to take a wicket was a special moment.”

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03/07/2022 18:30 - The Cooper Associates County Ground