Captain Eve Jones hit a composed 77 to lead a successful Central Sparks chase of 218 as they inflicted a first defeat in five Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy games upon North Group leaders Northern Diamonds at Emerald Headingley.

The six-wicket victory, secured with 3.2 overs to spare, keeps the race for a final spot at Edgbaston (September 27) alive going into next weekend’s last round of matches.

A third win in five games for the Sparks cuts the gap from nine points to five at the top.

That means to have any chance of qualifying for the final, the Sparks need to beat Lightning at Grace Road on Saturday with a bonus point and hope the Diamonds lose against North West Thunder at Headingley. Then it would come down to net run-rate.

This was not a bonus point victory. For that, you need to score at a run-rate of 1.25 more than the opposition.

Opener Jones helped her side recover from nought for one in the first over of the reply under a sunny Leeds sky, sharing 123 inside 26 overs with second-wicket partner Marie Kelly, who made 49.

Left-handed Jones played a calm hand and was strong on both sides of the wicket, a similar knock to the 87 from home number three Sterre Kalis.

Netherlands international Kalis had bounced back from three successive ducks to underpin the Diamonds 217 all out.

For the Sparks, new ball seamer Liz Russell was excellent with four for 28 from nine overs, while leg-spinner Hannah Baker claimed three for 26 from 10.

Having elected to bat, the momentum swung back and forth during the Diamonds innings.

At 113 for one in the 27th over, with 21-year-old Kalis set at the crease on a good pitch offering only the odd sign of uneven bounce, they were looking at a total in the region of 250.

However, they later slipped to 185 for eight in the 45th, with three wickets apiece at that stage for Russell and Baker.

Kalis played the anchor role expertly, calmly picking the gaps and putting away the bad ball in her 115-ball knock.

She was supported by opener Rachel Hopkins, who made 35 – the pair sharing 85 inside 20 overs for the second wicket to advance from 28 for one in the seventh. Later, Beth Langston added an important 26 down the order to boost the target.

The Sparks fightback was ‘sparked’, pardon the pun, by three quick wickets for Baker, who removed Hopkins, Ami Campbell and Alex MacDonald as the score slipped from 113 for one in the 27th over to 120 for four in the 29th.

The Diamonds lost two wickets in an over on three separate occasions, the first of those being when Baker had Campbell caught at mid-on and MacDonald lbw sweeping two balls later.

Another leg-spinner, Anisha Patel later did the same, getting Jenny Gunn and Bess Heath, before Russell returned at the death to get Kalis caught at mid-off and Phoebe Graham (185 for eight in the 45th).

After an early Langston wicket with the new ball, the Sparks controlled the chase through Jones, who hit nine fours in 114 balls, and Kelly.

There was a brief wobble when Jones chipped a return catch to leg-spinner Katie Levick and Langston trapped Millie Home lbw two balls later, leaving the score at 172 for four in the 40th over.

But Poppy Davies (31 not out) and Chloe Hill calmed nerves with an unbroken 46. Hill finished with an unbeaten 23 and hit the winning runs.

Northern Diamonds bat Sterre Kalis said: “It was a really good feeling to finally get some runs on the board. I’ve been a bit unlucky and have tried to stay positive and work hard at training. Thankfully it came right today.

“It’s always better if you get runs in a win, but if we win next week we are through to the final.

“We beat the Thunder convincingly last week, so hopefully we can do that again.”

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