Defending champions Western Storm got their Kia Super League campaign off to the perfect start on Sunday with an emphatic win over the Yorkshire Diamonds and they will look to continue their momentum as they host the Surrey Stars on the penultimate day of the Cheltenham Cricket Festival.
Fixtures at the idyllic College Ground are often reserved for Gloucestershire only, so the fact that a Super League match is being played at the venue speaks volumes at how prestigious the tournament already is, despite this year’s competition only being its third edition.
This contest is a repeat of the 2017 semi-final where the Storm were victors by three wickets, so revenge may well be on the minds of the Stars players who were involved that day.
Though this fixture is about so much more than just avenging that defeat.
The Stars were comfortably beaten in their opening match against the Southern Vipers and, while the fact that the tournament has doubled in length means teams can lose a couple of matches early on and still qualify, too many defeats for the Stars and they will be playing catch up.
However a trip to the West Country is probably the last fixture you want needing a win. The Storm, who are led excellently by Heather Knight, possess a number of dangerous players including internationals Rachel Priest and Stafanie Taylor. The fact that they have reached the final twice in this competition in its first two years, suggests also they know how to translate all of their talent onto the pitch.
Heather Knight may have taken all the headlines however it was Smriti Mandhana who set the tone for the Storm in their successful pursuit of 163 against the Diamonds. The Indian was ruthless, striking 48 from just 20 deliveries. Her innings included five maximums, the opener taking a particular liking to Delissa Kimmice – who she struck for three successive sixes in the fifth over. By the time she was dismissed, the Storm’s required run-rate was down to under seven an over and they ultimately cruised to victory. Mandhana should enjoy batting at the College Ground with its small boundaries and her team will be hoping that the first ever Indian to play in the KSL can get them off to a flyer once again.
The Stars were reminded of what they had lost when Tammy Beaumont’s 62 not out for the Vipers inflicted them to an opening day defeat. Their England stars Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver managed just eight runs between them in the same game, both falling early in the innings as the Stars slumped to 18-4. A position that most teams would struggle to recover from. Taylor and Sciver are two of the world’s most destructive batsmen on their day, as we saw during last year’s World Cup. Surely at least one of them will have an impact against the Storm.
Western Storm Squad: Heather Knight (c), Amara Carr, Naomi Dattani, Freya Davies, Danielle Gibson, Sophie Luff, Smriti Mandhana, Lissy McLeod, Claire Nicholas, Lauren Parfitt, Rachel Priest (wk), Anya Shrubsole, Rebecca Silk, Stafanie Taylor, Fran Wilson.
Surrey Stars Squad: Natalie Sciver (c), Aylish Cranstone, Sophia Dunkley, Grace Gibbs, Gayatri Gole, Eva Gray, Hannah Jones, Marizanne Kapp , Lizelle Lee, Laura Marsh, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Sarah Taylor (wk), Dane van Niekerk , Mady Villiers.
Weather and Conditions
Watching cricket at Cheltenham is a delight regardless, and the stunning weather expected on Thursday will make this occasion all the more wonderful.
The wickets for both Championship matches at the festival were excellent, hopefully a similar surface will be prepared here that offers assistance to both bat and ball.
Date: 26th July 2018
Ground: The College Ground, Cheltenham
Odds (SkyBet): Western Storm 1/1, Surrey Stars 4/5