South East Stars v Western Storm. Beckenham. ‘Freezing’.

Have watched Heather Knight a fair bit – live. For England, for the Storm. She is both an outstanding player and a gathering force.

By that I mean she has added a boomtasticism to her game that she may once have lacked. As though somebody warned her there was a danger she may seem too old-school, too one-dimensional – a bit like a typical England Captain in virtually any era pre- this volcanic present. Knighty the honest plodder-plus. Heather the Redoubtable but Predictable.

I of course have absolutely no idea if she *has actually had* conversations of this sort, merely rehearsed them with herself, or been blissfully ignorant of the discussion (should it actually exist). Whatever. If it was in the ether or in the dressing-room the universe has been asking questions – as though or because her genuinely gutsy stoicism and durability and consistency were no longer enough.

For what – 18 months? – Heather Knight has been answering powerfully. Possibly most noticeably in last seasons KSL Finals Day, when most of us ran out of superlatives. She is manifestly NOT just a steady bat, now. As well as being a shrewd, implacable competitor she has other, more expansive, more entertaining gears. The England captain is an ace as well as a brick.

But coming into this New Era and specifically this #RHFTrophy, just how much of the upgrade would we need to see? At a decidedly parky Beckenham, I imagined a throttled-back H would do it: a steady steering job. So it proved. But as a frost-bitten Mark Church enthused… this was, predictably, a masterclass.

Live blog below.

Watching via live-stream (though I do hope to be able to attend #StormTroopers home games, Covid-protocols permitting): also following various key twitter feeds, asyado. Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to deduce that conditions are testing: ‘freezing’ to quote Raf Nicholson, whom I imagine to be ‘huddled’ in a safely-distanced kindofaway avec her fella Syd in the rather alarmingly shaky depths of Mark Church’s boundary-side tent.

But to the cricket.

George and Shrubsole for Storm, versus Smith and Capsey, for Stars. It’s proper baltic.

Western Storm cope better and wickets fall – Smith, Capsey, Dunkley in the first twelve overs. All a tad clumsy from the batting side – though Shrubsole does well to catch Dunkley, off Nicholas. To be fair, it’s hard to say how much of this is skill, how much nerves and how much weather-induced misjudgement. Interestingly, neither Shrubsole – who as she sometimes does, looks a little laboured – nor George feel all that threatening. Holding your form in any discipline is plainly a challenge.

New Storm Head Coach Mark O’Leary will have been delighted by his side’s fielding, for the first twenty overs plus: almost flawless. Bowling-wise, meanwhile, it continues to be one of those days where things *just happen*.

Ultimately, Hennessy finishes up with a four-fer, without (it seemed, from the distance of live-stream) doing that much. This not remotely meant as a put-down, just hard to equate the performance with the stats, as is so often the case.

Fi Morris however, looked both nervy and also tasty – is this a word I can use? – in the sense that she really got some spin. Despite the inevitable inconsistencies, Morris found enough beauties to befuddle the batters. She deservedly takes the key wicket of Susie Rowe, after the Stars player had, mid-innings, been single-handedly stalling the Storm charge towards a seemingly invincible position. Fair play to the off spinner for giving the ball a legitimate tweak in the gale, and to O’Leary and/or captain Sophie Luff for persisting with her when the occasional wide crept in.

As Southby joins Farrant, the team in Glammy clobber are 109 for 7 and – dare I say it – struggling in a way not entirely unfamiliar for the men of that Welsh county.

With the departure of Rowe, Katie George returns, as if to bundle the home side out pronto: the thinking being that her sharpish left arm over may be too much for the Stars’ tail to cope with. But it is Morris who strikes again, with a peach of an off-break that, turning profoundly, completely unpicks Southby’s forward defence. 113 for 8. The sense builds that Western Storm may, despite difficult conditions for every facet of the game – it is cold, it is windy – cruise quietly but stylishly to an easy win.

A further but necessary reminder that bowling anything in a strongish, gusty blow is tough. Morris, whom I am already suspecting might be a real influence in the Storm’s campaign, has now nevertheless wheeled down a few full-tosses and a wide or two. But with the live-stream camera flapping about like a recalcitrant seagull on the roof of commentator’s Mark Church’s gazebo, I am watching Fi Morris and thinking ‘has quality’. Be really interesting to see if she can maintain or surpass this impression, should the autumn winds ever abate.

Farrant is fortunate to survive an airy miscue. Keeper Wraith, who looks accomplished (despite the etc etc), can’t race across as the ball loops infuriatingly high to off, but safe. Claire Nicholas returns, for the 37th, starting with another full-toss. 124 for 8, now.

As we approach what feels like The End, it seems that Storm must win this. ‘Fatal’, naturally, to speculate but think a low total plays right into the hands of the visitors particularly because Heather Knight is back with them; as with the rest of the England players she is available for the first two #RHFlintTrophy matches.

The England skipper has a fabulous, stoic temperament and can certainly play the slow and steady role: in fact, as I have argued on previous occasions, she can also now do a compelling upgrade in terms of dynamism, should the need, the urgency be there. (This doesn’t appear likely, currently – although, with Farrant and Davies gritting their teeth and picking off Nicholas a little, the Stars total has reached 156 for 8 as we enter the last five overs).

Importantly, Farrant has now been dropped twice in the previously impressively attentive Storm Troopers field. As Hennessy returns to bowl the 47th and with the sun brightening, it feels if you can survive the cold and be watchful in the wind, batting is almost certainly a tad less fraught than South East Stars have generally made it made it look… and yet… might we have a game?

Davies is bowled by Hennessy. That partnership (of 49) with Farrant may be the difference between a competitive game and and a stroll. Let’s hope.

Gibbs joins Farrant. Cruelly for her, a horror-show of a muddle with the newcomer leaves her run out for 37, and closes the innings at 166 all out. Advantage Storm, unquestionably, but there is now, that ‘total to bowl at’.

Knight opens, with Fi Morris. They proceed relatively comfortably to 35 without loss, after 10 overs. Then 50 for 0, in the 14th. Both openers are despatching the loose one and being watchful; judging things nicely. When Davidson-Richards slings one especially wide to leg, her body-language and that of some of her comrades seems understandably muted. (This is what Knight can do. She takes a further single and moves to 32 not out).

Responding, Grace Gibbs beats Knight, wide-ish of off – no result. Morris then pulls a genuinely short ball, with good control. And a further leg side wide. There may be time left in the game but the Stars are in danger of being ground down, early. 71 for 0 after 17.

Morris looks in good nick with the bat as well as the ball. Unhurried, compact but looks to have flow in reserve. But slightly ignominiously, having been given a warning in the previous over, she is run out: critical wicket, ‘from nowhere’. Morris – who made 27, from 60 – is replaced by Luff.

Sophia Dunkley is bowling goodish, controlled leg-spin but Knight (what did I tell yas?) is through to her 50. She appears to have an ominous amount of time to pick her shots. With the experienced Luff alongside her, there is no sense that the door, having been opened by the Morris dismissal, will now be hoofed down by an inspired Stars line-up. Church, describing the Knight knock as an ‘absolute masterclass’, captures the mood.

Enter Bryony Smith, as Stars mix it up again. She drags one down, then gets one to turn. A leg-side wide ticks the scoreboard over past the ton; 100 for 1 after 24.

Smith and Dunkley – both England-quality players – work well, in tandem, to the extent that the former forces an error from Luff. She is caught miscuing, by Farrant, moving backwards, to bring in Hennessy at 102 for 2, in the 26th. Knight remains at 62. Nice moment in the match as the two Stars spinners are now asking some decent questions… but only the most apocalyptic collapse could deny Knight and Western Storm the victory, surely? The quiet chat between Knight and her new partner should re-settle the destiny of the game, you would imagine. Hennessy proceeds, calmly.

Smith bowls a maiden and the run rate has temporarily stalled. Dunkley floats one up, boldly, but Knight drives through the covers for four – first ball. Then a pull follows – also four. Heather Knight (suddenly in the rain) appears to be re-stating her dominance.

Her partner won’t match that level of skill or composure. She swishes rather, across another full leg-spinner from Dunkley and only succeeds in hoiking it high to mid-off. Out. Hennessy out for six.

Freya Davies, formerly of Western Storm, returns, as her captain Farrant no doubt thinks this is the moment to batter away at that metaphorical door. Wraith has joined Knight, who now need 45 to win it. Maiden. Credit to South East Stars, who are certainly not capitulating. More rain… but they seem determined and able to play on through.

Wraith makes a promising start: looks confident, looks positive. We are 129 for 3 as Knight parries away the last of Davies’ deliveries in the 34th over. Knight is 74 not out with 38 required.

Farrant bowls Wraith. Hmmm. A wicket maiden ensues. Could be that Storm have failed, relatively, to engineer the strike towards the enduring Knight. Can George now quietly rotate things so that her senior partner can see this out? Davies from the other end.

George is solid in defence to a full one from Davies. 132 for 4 after 36. Knight has the strike. Poor error as Stars are penalised for having too many players in the deep in the powerplay – meaning no ball and free hit. Knight biffs it but can only chase out a single.

Farrant is offering some variations but Knight will wait and play late; two through the covers. She has 80. We are into the 38th over with only 28 needed.

Davies again. Knight may be experiencing some discomfort; she kicks out that right leg as if to stretch something. The bowler falls short and George encourages it round the corner with some stye; four. Then clips another one from her hip for a further two, behind square. Erroneously, you feel, Davies drops short again, allowing another flick to leg; in truth George is furious that she misses out on the boundary.

Warrant concedes an early four and the thing feels done. Fifteen required as Knight takes guard again. Single. She will miss out on her century now but the England captain will again be the key protagonist. Again she looks a class above – simply too good to get out.

A cool reverse-sweep despatches Hannah Jones’ first to third man. Ouch. Heavy rain. George – looking to get the win ASAP – booms left and right as the bowler struggles to grip the ball.

Finally, appropriately, Knight launches one over mid-on to claim the decisive runs. Western Storm are deserved winners, by six wickets, with Heather Knight not out 91 and Katie George likewise undefeated on 19.

Excellent performance in truly challenging conditions, for the #StormTroopers: they might arguably have won it earlier but this was a convincing victory and an encouraging start in the #RHFlintTrophy. Noteworthy that other England players have been influential elsewhere, today. But that’s as it should be. Be good to see other players taking the lead when the women’s internationals start.
Now. Where’s me soup?

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