Season Preview – Blaze

Season Preview – Blaze

It will be difficult for The Blaze to replicate the success they enjoyed in their first season, taking over the baton of Lightning and moving up the road to Trent Bridge. An unbeaten run was only brought to an end in the final of the Charlotte Edwards Cup by Southern Vipers. While it wasn’t plain sailing for the second half of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, they reached the final of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final only to be thwarted by Southern Vipers. 

It was a remarkable turnaround for the East Midlands-based side. Lightning had been far from competitive, and a move away from Loughborough to West Bridgford and some well-judged signings – Sarah Glenn, the England leg spinner, joined from Central Sparks and Natalie Sciver-Brunt moved from Northern Diamonds.  

It was the signing of Nadine de Klerk, the South African international all-rounder who chipped in with regular wickets and runs at vital times and managed to guide The Blaze over the finishing line where Lightning may have struggled in previous years. 

Along with a new name and place to call home, a new captain, Kirstie Gordon, took charge. Early wins against Central Sparks at Trent Bridge and Sunrisers at Chelmsford started to show that this team meant business. 

The Blaze were helped by a renaissance in form for Tammy Beaumont, the England opener. A double hundred in the Ashes Test Match at Trent Bridge, of all places, showed a renewed determination to score runs by the bucket load, including a new lease of life in the shortest formats; she scored the first hundred in the women’s Hundred and earned a recall to the England T20 team that seemed to be forever paused on 99 caps. Beaumont scored 317 runs in seven RHT Trophy matches for The Blaze last season, with four fifties. 

While the big-name players made their impact, there were performances from some of The Blaze’s more unsung players during the season. Lucy Higham started the season with five for 19 and a vital 24 runs against local rivals Central Sparks at Trent Bridge. 

There were also contributions from Sophie Munro, lower down the batting order, who averaged 26.14 often helping The Blaze out of some tight situations. 

If there was anyone who epitomised the upward trend in performance, it was Grace Ballenger, a left-arm pace bowler with some real promise. She skipped into her run-up and caused batters problems with swing and a little menace. There was more control over her bowling, which was also economical. Her return of 18 wickets in the RHF Trophy made her a good foil for de Klerk. 

The Blaze also has batters that can change games. Marie Kelly can move through the gears, be a destructive batter, or bat patiently and build an innings. With their England and Scotland internationals likely missing most of the early part of the season, it will be her chance to shine.  

Another player who fits into that mould is Georgie Boyce. An unbeaten 63 from 38 balls at Beckenham against the South East Stars in the Charlotte Edwards Cup showed how vital her batting can be to The Blaze.  

The Bryce sisters Katherine and Sarah will miss the early part of the season as they are away on international duty with Scotland. They will still play a massive role in The Blaze season. Katherine is a top all-rounder; her bowling is challenging to score from, and her batting has been one of the positives during the Lightning era. 

Sarah is one of the best wicketkeepers in the regional game, and a quick-fire 34 not out was enough to see The Blaze into the RHF Trophy final as they overcame the rain and South East Stars at Beckenham. 

With players missing for international duty, some fringe players will have opportunities to make their mark. Teresa Graves and Ella Claridge are the most likely to step up, and Mikela Kirk and Beth Harmer will be eager to get into the action and score the runs that will push competition for places harder than has been in recent times. 

Key Player 

Captain Kirstie Gordon will be as important as ever. A bowler who strangles teams with her left-arm spin. A real competitor who has really taken to the captaincy. While she filled in occasionally as Lightning captain, you could see her really stamp her mark on the role and get the best out of players. It will be a tough task to repeat last season, but Gordon is someone not to write off. 

Player to watch  

Josie Groves had fewer opportunities to show her leg-spin skills because of Glenn’s availability, but she will play a more important role this year. Groves was part of the successful England Under19 World Cup runners-up side and recently captained the side in Sri Lanka.  

How will they fare 

After the way that The Blaze started life, they will be one of the teams that others will see in their sights. It will be challenging to maintain this form, but some players are keen to prove it wasn’t a one-off. Semi-final places are achievable, but with other teams starting to show promise, it won’t be easy. 

Opening fixture: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy: 20 April 2024 v Central Sparks, Edgbaston 


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