Central Sparks and Thunder again played a competitive Rachael Heyhoe Flint match at Worcester. The game between these two sides finished in a tie earlier in the season, and it was always difficult to replicate that game’s tension. Considering the drama at another prominent fixture at the home of controversial run-outs and stumpings, it was probably best for everyone that there wasn’t any high drama at Worcester. However, the ground announcer insisted on telling the small crowd about goings on elsewhere. The home team eased to a victory that wasn’t always there for the taking. Eventually, winning by 29 runs with eight balls to spare.
One of the potential selling points for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy is the potential on display. With all the regions depleted by call-ups to England and England A sides, each team has to give the younger players in their squads opportunities. Central Sparks, to some extent, have had to rely on younger players since their inception and contributed four players to the Under-19 World Cup runners-up squad, two of which were in the team, and Hannah Baker was on sub-fielder duty. Thunder with Seren Smale, who contributed 94 from 125 balls to the Thunder total and Liberty Heap also represented the under-19s in South Africa.
A fourth-wicket stand of 139 between Ami Campbell (68) and Abbey Freeborn (67) steadied Sparks nerves after the loss of the early wickets of Eve Jones, Bethan Ellis and Erin Bruns had reduced Sparks to 27 for three as the opening pair of Tara Norris and fellow left-arm seamer Mahika Gaur shared the early wickets bowling good lines and lengths.
It was a day that if you got yourself in, there were easy runs to get, as anything short was quickly dispatched towards the boundary; a large playing area meant that the ball didn’t always finish the journey, and Sparks were sometimes guilty of not pushing for the second.
Wickets fell in clusters; when Campbell was stumped by Ellie Threlkeld for a 72 ball 68, the wickets of Davina Perrin, one of that England under-19 cohort, was trapped in front next ball to leave Norris on a hat-trick. Charis Pavely, with a quickish 33 from 36 balls from another of England’s Under-19 team to play in the game, helped Sparks to 233 all out, as Grace Potts was run out from the final ball.
At the deceptively old age of 25, Norris was the pick of the Thunder bowlers with four for 42. It looked like a total that was within Thunder’s reach, and Smale did her best to keep her side in it, but wickets fell at too frequent intervals.
Smale started well, while her opening partner Naomi Dattani struggled, eventually being bowled by Georgia Davis for a twelve-ball duck.
It all relied on the 18-year-old Smale as she scored her second List A fifty for Thunder and a top score of 94. The next highest scorers in the team were Danielle Collins and Norris, who scored 29 ball 22s. Had one of the middle-order, particularly the experienced Deandra Dottin, kicked on, we could have been on for another thriller. Ria Fackrell put paid to that when trapping the West Indian international lbw for 21.
One of the few positives for Thunder was that Western Storm Lost to The Blaze, so they have company at the bottom of the table, While Sparks young guns are still in the hunt for a top three place.