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Storm begin title defence in fine style

Heather Knight posted a superb match-winning 97 as defending Kia Super League champions Western Storm defeated Yorkshire Diamonds by seven wickets in a high-scoring contest at the Cooper Associates County Ground.

The Diamonds were put in after Knight won the toss and Australia’s Delissa Kimmince posted an unbeaten 55 in her maiden KSL innings as the visitors registered a competitive 162 for five.

That total proved meat and drink to England captain Knight who, aided and abetted by overseas star Smriti Mandhana, guided Storm to a comfortable victory in front of their home crowd with 4.3 overs remaining.

Mandhana marked her debut with a hugely entertaining knock of 48, but it was Knight’s 62-ball innings that did most to seal victory, the 27-year-old accruing 13 fours and five sixes.

Out-played by Storm in each of the last two seasons, Diamonds at least put up a fight this time around in a high-scoring match that produced 15 sixes, a KSL record.

Eager to regain her place at the top of England’s order ahead of this Autumn’s Women’s World T20, Yorkshire captain Lauren Winfield produced an eye-catching performance in front of the Sky TV cameras to serve notice that the visitors had come to win.

Far from being fazed by the departure of Australian opener Beth Mooney and Sri Lanka international Chamari Athapaththu – run out by Stafanie Taylor and pinned lbw by Claire Nicholas respectively with the score on 12 in the second over – Winfield went on the offensive.

She took fellow World Cup winner Anya Shrubsole to task during a power-play which yielded 44 runs, greeted England rookie Freya Davies with a straight-hit six and then plundered successive fours when teenage seamer Danielle Gibson was introduced from the Somerset Pavilion End.

Winfield eventually succumbed to a Davies in-swinger, having raised 41 from 29 balls with six fours and a six and added 48 for the third wicket with Davidson-Richards.

With Winfield, Mooney and Athapaththu back in the pavilion, Storm could have been excused for thinking the hard work was done. However, Davidson-Richards and Australian all-rounder Delissa Kimmince provided crucial mid-innings momentum in a fourth-wicket stand of 56 in 6.2 overs.

Davidson-Richards scored 33 at a run a ball before offering a return catch to Taylor in the 16th over with the score on 116.

Seeing the ball clearly, the clean-hitting Kimmince reached 50 from 37 balls, in the process receiving valuable support from Beth Langston and Thea Brookes as the Yorkshire tail wagged.

Regarded as a short-form specialist in her native Australia, 29-year-old Kimmince took full advantage of Taunton’s short boundaries, plundering five fours and a brace of sixes to suggest that Storm might not have things entirely their own way.

That feeling was reinforced when Rachel Priest departed for a first-ball duck, pinned in her crease by leg spinner Helen Fenby.

That was the cue for Mandhana to take centre stage. She demonstrated her intent by hitting Fenby for two straight sixes in as many balls and then plundering three further maximums in one over to blast Kimmince out of the attack.

Knight also opened her shoulders to good effect as the power-play yielded 64 runs, at which point Storm were required to score a further 98 runs at seven-an-over.

Having rushed to 48 via 20 balls, with three fours and five sixes, and dominated a stand of 80 in 7.5 overs with her captain, Mandhana missed out on a quickfire half century, driving a length ball from Davidson-Richards straight to cover point.

Trading almost exclusively in boundaries, Knight ensured there was no loss of momentum, going to 50 from 39 balls and dominating a partnership of 81 with Taylor for the third wicket.

A hundred was there for the taking for Storm’s captain but, with just two runs needed to achieve that landmark and victory, she holed out to deep mid-wicket, leaving Taylor  (12 not out) to hit the winning runs in the 16th over.

After the match the Storm Captain said: “It was a belter of a wicket and I was delighted when we managed to restrict them to 162. The girls thought it might be too many back in the dressing room, but I told them we could chase it with these short boundaries.

“I thought Freya Davies bowled superbly well and was backed up by the new girls. We gave them a bit too much width and that is something we will have to work on for the next game. We’ve made a winning start – much better than a year ago – and it sets us up nicely for the rest of the tournament.

“Smriti Mandhana plays without any nerves and we saw a little bit of what she can do today. She was hitting the ball so cleanly, all I had to do was play a supporting role. I went for my shots a bit more after she got out and I was timing the ball really well out there.

“I saw that the hundred was on and they don’t come along that often in T20. In the end I fell just short and I guess I’ll get a bit of stick for turning down a single at the end. On the plus side, it was good to get out there in the power-play and actually hit a few boundaries. Apparently, it’s a record game for sixes and that says everything about the pitches they produce for us at Taunton.”

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