Heather Knight posted a superb match-winning 98 as defending Kia Super League champions Western Storm defeated Yorkshire Diamonds by seven wickets in a high-scoring contest at Taunton.
Australia’s Delissa Kimmince posted an unbeaten 55 in her maiden KSL innings as Diamonds registered a competitive 162-5 after being put in to bat on a true pitch.
But that 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 26-year-old accruing 13 fours and 5 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.
No respecter of reputations, 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.
Storm breathed a collective sigh of relief when Winfield succumbed to a Davies in-swinger, having raised 41 from 29 balls with 6 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. But they were soon disabused of the idea as 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, but the breakthrough provided the defending champions with only temporary respite.
Seeing the ball clearly, the clean-hitting Kimmince picked up the cudgels to raise 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 5 fours and a brace of sixes to suggest that Storm might not have things entirely their own way.
That feeling was reinforced when talismanic opener Rachel Priest, Storm’s match-winner in last season’s final, 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, the diminutive Indian demonstrating 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 3 fours and 5 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.
The Yorkshire Diamonds next fixture will see them take on Lancashire Thunder at Emerald Headingley on Friday (2:30pm start). This game will be followed by the Yorkshire Vikings fixture against Birmingham Bears in the Vitality Blast (6:30pm start) and tickets will give admission for both games.