New Zealand opener Suzie Bates destroyed Loughborough Lightning with a magnificent unbeaten 119, the first ever KSL century, with an innings that combined elegance and ruthlessness, aided by some poor bowling and sloppy fielding from the home side.
She followed it up with two wickets and a fine catch in Loughborough Lightning’s chase, to ensure the Vipers extended their winning streak to four games.
After a typically miserly over of leg spin from Kristen Beams, the hallmarks of Bates’ innings were clear from the seventh ball of the match, when teenager Lucy Higham failed to get low enough to stop a powerfully flayed cut shot off the bowling of Beth Langston.
Bates repeated the shot, better, off the next delivery. She punched the fourth ball of the over through Langston’s legs, and top-edged another four from the fifth.
Rebecca Grundy was given similarly disdainful treatment in the fourth over with two assertive sweeps in front of square, and by the time Georgia Elwiss turned to her senior bowler in Ellyse Perry, Bates was settled and in fearless form.
Perry shelled a caught and bowled chance before Bates had scored off her, just failing to close her hand at the right time. Bates made the most out of her second life, smashing two fours and a six off Perry’s final three balls.
Hayley Matthews perished shortly after Bates reached her half-century trying to join in Bates’s fun, skying a well-flighted delivery from Lucy Higham, but Bates was unperturbed by such a minor distraction.
She made light work of the Lightning bowlers despite the relaxed fielding restrictions, threading the narrowest gaps between fielders and lofting even the better balls over the infield with delicious ease.
While there were far too many loose balls from the Lightning attack, and far too many mis-fields, Bates deserves all the credit for putting experienced and talented bowlers like Perry under so much pressure.
She reached 90 off a free hit bowled by Perry, and the next ball was caught off a chest-high full toss. Perry was clearly feeling the pressure, but followed it up with a good wide yorker, which led to Georgia Adams being run out heading to the striker’s end. Bates remained on 90*, one short the Kia Super League record.
She passed Dane van Niekerk’s 91* for the Lightning last year with yet another boundary gifted to her by a mis-field. Her century came off the final ball of Beams’ four-over spell, pivoting on a shorter ball for a single behind square.
The Vipers finished on 180-2, the second highest total in domestic women’s Twenty20 cricket.
The scoreboard pressure told on Loughborough’s top order, and when three wickets fell in the powerplay the game was as good as over. Ellyse Villani felt a little aggrieved at being run out at the non-striker’s end, when Tash Farrant bent to fingertip the ball onto the stumps. Amy Jones followed shortly after, bowled by Hayley Matthews trying to cut a ball with no room to execute the shot, and finally Perry was run out by a direct hit from Georgia Adams.
Georgia Elwiss started a respectable rebuilding phase of the chase, and once Sonia Odedra was stumped for the second time in two games, Thea Brookes joined in with some impressive positive hitting.
The thin and flickering candle of hope was finally extinguished when Bates came on to bowl. She snagged Elwiss with her second ball and added Lucy Higham with a plumb lbw in her second. She also pulled off an outstanding catch on the straight boundary, juggling a clean hit from Langston a couple of times before finishing on her knees with the ball clasped in her right hand.
Loughborough Lightning have now lost their last four games, and the consolation that they passed Bates’ individual total before Grundy was run out by Carla Rudd off the final ball is likely to be cold comfort for the Midlands side, given that finals day seems little more than a dream fading in a pink and purple haze.