Sunrisers have had a great start to 2023; they have pulled off one of the year’s signings, with Dane van Niekerk due to arrive soon. They were unbeaten in preseason, five wins from five. So when they won their opening Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy against the might of Southern Vipers at the Ageas Bowl by a whopping 126 runs, it suggested the years of toil since the start of the regional setups were formed were starting to pay off.
The Blaze are another team still finding their feet in the regional setup. A change of name and venue and marque signings have lifted them considerably, and they now look far more like a team capable of winning games regularly.
In this encounter at Chelmsford, The Blaze won by three wickets with 88 balls to spare, but they were made to work hard at times by Sunrisers.
There are still going to be bumps in the road for both teams. For Sunrisers, their star players Grace Scrivens (19) and Mady Villiers (24) are still young and have a lot of serious cricket left in them. With The Blaze, their new signings give them a depth that Lightning never had.
On a flat looking surface but with a green tinge, the Sunrisers chose to bat, though the temptation might have been to bowl first. Grace Ballenger and Kathryn Bryce got some early movement, and Scrivens and Cordelia Griffth were watchful. However, there was little to feed off, and Scrivens was busy as always at the crease. Griffith had to be vigilant of her opening partner, who was constantly on the lookout for quick singles. With a right-hand and left-hand batter at the crease, it was a good tactic with the boundaries few and far between. Scrivens innings of 39 from 59 balls was an uncharacteristically slow innings for the England under-19 captain.
Sarah Glenn, in only her second game for The Blaze since her move from Central Sparks during the winter and with a place in this summer’s Ashes squad on the line, bowled with rhythm and control. With a tight field, the Sunrisers’ batters couldn’t find a way to break free. Scrivens tried to advance down the track only for the ball to find its way past her bat to Sarah Bryce, who would take five dismissals, including three stumpings.
66 for nought became 100 for four as Glenn, bowling through her allotted overs, tore through the Sunrisers’ top order. Glenn finished with four for 22. While established in the international t20 side, her control and patience with the ball and the bat suggest she aspires to be a multi-format player for England.
Wickets fell regularly, and The Blaze had the luxury of holding back captain Kirstie Gordon until the 22nd over. After a productive winter in Australia and New Zealand and with the captaincy of The Blaze entrusted to her, there is a new spring in Gordon’s step. She has been back to her best with the injury problems of last year firmly behind her. She took two for 24 and with Sophie Munro (two 22) ensured the lower middle-order didn’t wag.
After the opening pair of Scrivens with 59 and Griffith 65, the next highest scorer was Saskia Horley, the Australian-born Scottish international with 36.
Things were looking grim for Sunrisers at 128 for six as it soon became 139 for nine. However, Kate Coppack and Abtaha Maqsood managed to scramble 20 runs for the last wicket, giving the Sunrisers something to bowl at.
It was the sort of total that only the bowling team thought they had any chance of defending, and then they might have had some doubts looking at some of the batting that The Blaze had at their disposal. The impossible started to look probable when The Blaze, trying to get the job done in the Powerplay, fell over themselves to give their wickets away.
That isn’t to dismiss the efforts of Coppack and Eva Gray, both clever opening bowlers. Coppack, in their preseason game against The Blaze, looked impressive and did so again today with three early wickets, sending back both Kathryn and Sarah Bryce and starting the tumble of wickets with that of Marie Kelly for a two-ball duck.
Tammy Beaumont and Glenn steadied the ship with a partnership of 72. It brought the run rate down to 2.5 an over, but in a low-scoring game, that thinking goes out of the window and when Glenn was out flicking Kelly Castle off her legs for 30, it was game on again.
The Blaze would need Beaumont to bat through to the end, but with the score on 119 for five, the England international was stumped for 64. It was going to come down to whoever could hold their nerve.
The partnership of Beaumont and Glenn ensured that the run rate was never an issue for The Blaze, but a partnership would need to be found from somewhere. For Sunrisers, it was all about keeping calm and sticking to their game plans.
Nadine de Klerk, the Blaze’s South African overseas player, and Sophie Munro, playing in her first game nudged The Blaze to victory. Admittedly, it wasn’t done in classical style, but these are the games their previous incarnation rarely won.
For Sunrisers, it might hurt now, but there are still positives for them to take forward.