Heather Knight posted a superb match-winning 97 as defending Kia Super League champions Western Storm defeated Yorkshire Diamonds by seven wickets in a high-scoring contest at Taunton.
Australia’s Delissa Kimmince posted an unbeaten 55 in her maiden KSL innings as Diamonds registered a competitive 162-5 after being put in to bat on a true pitch.
But that proved meat and drink to England captain Knight who, aided and abetted by overseas star Smriti Mandhana, guided Storm to a comfortable victory in front of their home crowd with 4.3 overs remaining.
Mandhana marked her debut with a hugely entertaining knock of 48, but it was Knight’s 62-ball innings that did most to seal victory, the 26-year-old accruing 13 fours and 5 sixes.
“We’re a new-look side this season and, despite the result, we’ve made some big improvements already,” said Diamonds captain Lauren Winfield.
“We talked about being more competitive this season and, in some areas, we produced exactly what we had talked about before the match. We played better than in last season’s corresponding fixture and I’m sure we will continue to improve as the competition progresses.
“It was good to get some runs at the top of the order and Delissa Kimmince played very well to make a 50 on her debut. She should be hugely encouraged.”
Out-played by Storm in each of the last two seasons, Diamonds at least put up a fight this time around in a high-scoring match that produced 15 sixes, a KSL record.
Eager to regain her place at the top of England’s order ahead of November’s World T20, Winfield produced an eye-catching performance in front of the Sky TV cameras to serve notice that the visitors had come to win.
Far from being fazed by the departure of Australian opener Beth Mooney and Sri Lanka international Chamari Athapaththu – run out by Stafanie Taylor and pinned lbw by Claire Nicholas respectively with the score on 12 in the second over – Winfield went on the offensive.
No respecter of reputations, she took fellow World Cup winner Anya Shrubsole to task during a power-play which yielded 44 runs, greeted England rookie Freya Davies with a straight-hit six and then plundered successive fours when teenage seamer Danielle Gibson was introduced from the Somerset Pavilion end.
Storm breathed a collective sigh of relief when Winfield succumbed to a Davies in-swinger, having raised 41 from 29 balls with six fours and a six and added 48 for the third wicket with Davidson-Richards.
With Winfield, Mooney and Athapaththu back in the pavilion, Storm could have been excused for thinking the hard work was done. But they were soon disabused of the idea as Davidson-Richards and Australian all-rounder Delissa Kimmince provided crucial mid-innings momentum in a fourth-wicket stand of 56 in 6.2 overs.
Davidson-Richards scored 33 at a run a ball before offering a return catch to Taylor in the 16th over with the score on 116, but the breakthrough provided the defending champions with only temporary respite.
We talked about being more competitive this season and, in some areas, we produced exactly what we had talked about before the match. We played better than in last season’s corresponding fixture.
Seeing the ball clearly, the clean-hitting Kimmince hit 50 from 37 balls, in the process receiving valuable support from Beth Langston and Thea Brookes as the Yorkshire tail wagged.
Regarded as a short-form specialist in her native Australia, 29-year-old Kimmince took full advantage of Taunton’s short boundaries, hitting five fours and two sixes to show Storm might not have things their own way.
That feeling was reinforced when talismanic opener Rachel Priest, Storm’s match-winner in last season’s final, departed for a first-ball duck, pinned in front by leg spinner Helen Fenby.
That was the cue for Mandhana to take centre stage, the diminutive Indian demonstrating her intent by hitting Fenby for two straight sixes in as many balls and then plundering three further maximums in one over to blast Kimmince out of the attack.
Knight also opened her shoulders as the power-play yielded 64 runs, at which point Storm were required to score a further 98 runs at seven-an-over.
Having rushed to 48 via 20 balls, with 3 fours and 5 sixes, and dominated a stand of 80 in 7.5 overs with her captain, Mandhana missed out on a quickfire half century, driving a length ball from Davidson-Richards straight to cover point.
Trading almost exclusively in boundaries, Knight ensured there was no loss of momentum, going to 50 from 39 balls and dominating a partnership of 81 with Taylor for the third wicket.
A hundred was there for the taking but, with just three runs needed to achieve that landmark along with victory, Knight holed out to deep mid-wicket, leaving Taylor (12 not out) to hit the winning runs in the 16th over for a comfortable victory.