Excellent half-centuries from Lauren Winfield-Hill and Leah Dobson helped power the Northern Diamonds to a crucial 31-run victory over Western Storm at Taunton today as the champions maintained their title defence in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
Diamonds amassed a daunting 281-3 off 43 overs after the game was delayed by 90 minutes due to early morning rain.
The weather soon cleared and the total always looked beyond the hosts.
But they battled hard with half-centuries from Sophie Luff, Fran Wilson and Natasha Wraith, taking Storm far closer to the target than Diamonds would have wished. They finished on 250-7.
Wonderful Winfield-Hill top-scored with 83 off 92 balls, while Dobson finished the innings in grand style with 68 not out off 50 balls – her best score in regional cricket.
After seeing off some early signs of swing from Storm’s Mollie Robbins, openers Winfield-Hill and Sterre Kalis settled into their work as they began to build an innings-defining partnership – 101.
Winfield-Hill was happy to play the aggressor, regularly picking off boundaries and targeting the wayward Gemma Lane while Kalis began slowly but gradually matched her opening partner in the scoring stakes.
Chances were at a premium as Diamonds cruised beyond the 50 partnership with Winfield-Hill and Kalis taking a particularly liking to Alex Griffiths and the spin of Sophia Smale.
The 100 came up in the 18th over before Winfield-Hill called her partner through for an unlikely single after the ball made its way to Robbins who made no mistake with a direct hit to run out the unfortunate Kalis for 45.
If Storm were hoping the wicket would spark a recovery they were mistaken as skipper Hollie Armitage came to the crease in free-scoring style.
Winfield-Hill also upped the ante.
A towering six from Armitage off Chloe Skelton was the highlight of a lovely innings which also included five boundaries before she eventually hit one to Griffiths at deep mid-wicket off the returning Robbins for 45 to end the second wicket-partnership on 76.
A century looked likely for Winfield-Hill but Storm’s hopes were raised when she was brilliantly caught by Wilson at cover off Robbins to leave Diamonds 188-2 and the hosts with renewed ambition to restrict the visitors to around 250.
It was left to Dobson to batter Storm’s confidence in the closing overs as she put together a barnstorming counter-attack which saw her hit nine boundaries and one six as she and Emma Marlow (23 not out) took Diamonds to an imposing total.
Storm’s innings got off to a disastrous start when Griffiths was trapped in front in just the second over for one by Lizzie Scott (2-30 from seven overs).
Emma Corney departed soon after when she top-edged behind a delivery from loanee debutant Sophia Turner to Winfield-Hill for 10 to leave the hosts 17-2.
At this point Storm needed a lifeline, and it was provided by the experienced Storm pair of Wilson and skipper Luff who began to construct a partnership that somehow dragged their side back into the game.
Wilson especially took the game to the Diamonds bowlers hitting nine boundaries before she gifted a wicket to the visitors when reverse sweeping Armitage straight to Rebecca Duckworth for 57.
Together with Luff, the third wicket pair had built a partnership of 107.
But as soon as Wilson departed Storm looked up against it as the run-rate began to rise.
Niamh Holland quickly departed for five, clean bowled by Katie Levick. And despite Luff’s determined hitting and a spirited knock from Wraith time began to run out.
Luff eventually fell for 87 when she was stumped attempting to hit big against Levick and with the wicket disappeared any chance of a home victory despite Wraith’s battling half-century causing a few late nerves.
But all’s well that ends well, and the Diamonds are now just three points behind third-placed Southern Vipers with two games remaining.
The first of those is against Thunder at Sale on Wednesday.