Report: Blaze v Sparks, Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy
Off-spinner Lucy Higham played the starring role with a career-best five for 19 as The Blaze made a winning debut in regional women’s cricket, launching their Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy campaign with a 59-run defeat of Central Sparks at Trent Bridge.
Opener Tammy Beaumont top-scored with 60 for the East Midlands team, backed up by England colleague Sarah Glenn (38) and Georgie Boyce (28) and though the rebranded Lightning failed to bat out their 50 overs, Higham chipped in with 24 with the bat to give them a total of 212 to defend.
England quick Issy Wong was out of sorts with the ball for Sparks, yet three wickets each for Emily Arlott, Grace Potts and spinner Georgia Davis looked to have secured a target that the West Midlands team could chase.
In the event, no one could produce the stand-out performance with the bat that was needed, Katie George top-scoring with 31 at number eight as Blaze skipper Kirstie Gordon, who has taken over from Lightning captain Kathryn Bryce in the role, celebrated a winning start.
After the early loss of Marie Kelly, who found short midwicket from Arlott’s first delivery to depart without scoring, Beaumont and Boyce added 66 in 11.4 overs to give The Blaze something like the start they were looking for after winning the toss.
Their progress was checked by wickets in three consecutive overs by Potts, the 20-year-old right-arm seamer who was leading wicket-taker for Sparks in both 50 and 20-over cricket last season.
Boyce, who had scored three of her five boundaries in a loose second over from Wong, was Potts’s first victim, leg before playing across the line, before the Bryce sisters – Kathryn and Sarah – both feathered catches to ex-Lightning wicketkeeper Abbey Freeborn.
Beaumont completed a half-century from 70 balls with her ninth boundary as she and Glenn set about rebuilding the innings from 86 for four, Glenn hitting two boundaries in one over off Potts.
Spinners Davis and Hannah Baker dragged the balance back towards Sparks by sharing the next four wickets, beginning with Beaumont’s dismissal for 60 after adding 45 with Glenn when off-spinner Davis struck the front pad as the opener attempted to work to leg.
Davis picked up a second, holding a steepling top-edge off her own bowling to remove South Africa all-rounder Nadine de Klerk before Hannah Baker, the England Under-19 leg-spinner, turned one sharply to bowl former Sparks team-mate Glenn, who had been dropped on 22.
Davis claimed her third wicket, bowling Beth Harmer middle stump, before Arlott returned to remove Gordon and Higham as The Blaze were dismissed in the 47th over.
After failing to click with the ball, Wong seemed determined to make amends with the bat and, having been dropped at cover off De Klerk on two, was beginning to look a threat as she lofted Grace Ballinger for six over midwicket.
But in attempting to dish out similar treatment to Glenn at the end of the England leg-spinner’s opening over she succeeded only in finding the safe hands of Higham on the boundary.
After Chloe Brewer fell leg before to Kathryn Bryce, Higham struck arguably the most important blow, taking what turned into a difficult return catch as Jones – prolific in this competition in previous years – sent the ball soaring skywards off a top edge which drifted in the breeze as it came down. At the halfway point, Sparks were well off the pace at 76 for three, where The Blaze had been 130 for four.
The combination of off-spinner Higham with left-armer Gordon denied Sparks the acceleration they needed and the visitors suffered further losses as Freeborn paddled straight to the fielder behind square to give Higham a second success, to which she quickly added a third, inducing Ami Campbell to offer an easy caught-and-bowled.
Arlott was victim number four for Higham, via a stumping, which she raised to five by bowling Davis, either side of Gordon dismissing Davina Perrin via a catch at mid-off.
George, who hit five fours in her attempt to keep Sparks in contention, fell caught and bowled by De Klerk, who completed the win by bowling Baker with the second ball of the 49th over.
Central Sparks skipper Eve Jones said: “It’s a disappointing result. We played well for some phases of the game. We bowled quite well and managed to bring it back after they got off to a positive start and we felt at the halfway stage with the total they got we were well in the game.
“But it is disappointing that we played on a used wicket. For the first game for The Blaze at Trent Bridge, I think it is a bit disappointing for women’s cricket. It was slow and it was turning miles. The ball wasn’t coming on so it was hard to score runs. But it is on us and we have to do better than that.
“There were positives for us. Grace Potts and Georgia Davis bowled really well and then Katie George at the end batted really positively. It is only the first game and there are plenty of games to come.”
Over 75% sold for Women’s Ashes IT20
For the first time, Edgbaston will host a Women’s Ashes IT20 as the oldest rivalry in cricket returns to Birmingham – and over 15,500 tickets have already been sold!
Watch local stars including Amy Jones and Issy Wong in action as we make history on Saturday 1 July, 6.30pm start. Tickets are available from only £17 for adults and under 16s £5.