Lightning 303 for 5 (Bryce 136*, Graves 65) beat Central Sparks 248 (Jones 115*) by 55 runs
Opener Sarah Bryce hit a List A career-best 136 not out as Lightning wrapped up their Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy campaign with a comfortable victory over Central Sparks.
The 20-year-old Scotland international struck 14 fours in her 133-ball innings, sharing partnerships of 61 with opening partner Bethan Ellis, 69 with Abbey Freeborn and 127 with Teresa Graves, whose 65 was also a career-best in the format, as Lightning racked up 303 for 5 from their 50 overs, the highest total by any side in the eight-team competition.
Sparks skipper Eve Jones led with a fine unbeaten 115 but after sharing an opening partnership of 103 with Gwenan Davies, who reached 48, could not find the support that was needed to have any chance of overhauling such a demanding target.
Off-spinner Lucy Higham, with 2 for 35, was the pick of the Lightning bowlers, her miserly spell key to sapping the visitors’ momentum at a key stage of the innings. All-rounders Kathryn Bryce and Bethan Ellis weighed in with three apiece in the last 10 overs as Sparks threw the bat in vain.
Sparks had already seen their outside chance of pipping Northern Diamonds to a place in the final as North Group winners disappear with the Diamonds’ win over Thunder earlier in the afternoon.
Having won the toss, Sparks chose to bowl first, their initial target to break the partnership between Bryce and Ellis that was primarily responsible for their defeat against Lightning at Worcester earlier in the competition, when the Lightning openers shared a stand of 148.
They could not separate them in the Powerplay, although Emily Arlott went close when Bryce sliced over the head of slip in the eighth over. Uncannily, at the completion of the 10th, Lightning were 39 without loss, just as they had been at New Road.
The breakthrough was not long coming and it was the introduction of Hannah Baker’s leg-spin at the pavilion end that brought it about, the 16-year-old celebrating after only her third delivery as Ellis edged for Anisha Patel to take a fine catch at slip, her departure for 25 ending the partnership at 61.
A bowling change paid off again as Patel joined the attack to provide leg-spin from both ends, dismissing Kathryn Bryce via a thin edge to wicketkeeper Davies in the 19th over. Sarah Bryce – who survived a chance to the ‘keeper off Issy Wong on 42 – completed her fifth half-century of the competition from 59 balls with five fours as Lightning hit the halfway point at 114 for 2.
Strong on the cut and sweep, Freeborn then led an acceleration in Lightning’s scoring, racing to 40 off 43 balls with seven fours and damaging Baker’s figures, before bowling changes paid off again for Sparks. The medium pace of Clare Boycott brought the end of Freeborn, who cut again but this time straight to Baker at point, the third-wicket pair having added 69 in 12 overs. When Patel returned for a second spell she immediately bowled Higham, beaten by the turn as she tried to sweep.
But the arrival of Graves quickly restored Lightning’s momentum, the 21-year-old striking the ball cleanly and with power, taking the pressure off Bryce, who had gone more than a dozen overs without a four when a full toss from Liz Russell enabled her to hoick the ball through the mid-wicket boundary.
A lovely clip off the legs off Arlott gave her an eighth four in the next, taking her to 99, and she was able to work the next delivery into the onside for a single to move into three figures off 116 balls.
Bryce and Graves then went after the Sparks’ bowling, in the next five overs adding 65 runs. Graves, who surpassed her previous highest List A score when she moved to 38, launched Wong for a huge six into the sightscreen at the Bennett End, then celebrating her maiden half-century by cracking three consecutive boundaries off Arlott.
By the time she was run out in the final over of the innings, she had notched up nine fours and a six in reaching 65 from just 57 balls and the partnership with Bryce had added 127 in 16 overs.
Sparks made a blistering start in reply, openers Jones and Davies putting on 67 in the opening Powerplay to be ahead of the required rate, Davies setting the tone with 39 off 33 balls. By the 16th over, their alliance was worth 100, but it was broken soon afterwards as Davies, swishing at a widish ball from left-arm spinner Kirstie Gordon, was adjudged to have made thin contact with it before it thudded into the gloves of Freeborn.
The combination of Gordon and Lucy Higham’s accurate off-spin put the brakes on the Sparks’ scoring and at the half-way stage of the chase they had fallen behind the pace at 139 for 1, although they received a somewhat unexpected and controversial bonus when umpires Paul Pollard and Malinda Underdown awarded five penalty runs against Lightning after a player used offensive language in disputing a not-out verdict following a run-out appeal.
It was the second example in less than 24 hours on this ground of umpires applying the tough new sanctions available under Law 42 governing fair and unfair play. Five runs had been awarded against Nottinghamshire Outlaws for distracting the batsman in Friday night’s Vitality Blast fixture hosted by Leicestershire Foxes, with umpired Pollard again involved.
Jones, meanwhile, had completed a half-century off 67 balls and her partnership with Marie Kelly for the second wicket had added 57 in 12 overs to keep the Sparks in touch at 160 for 1 after 30.
Their prospects were weakened when Higham’s excellent spell was rewarded with two wickets in her final over as she had Kelly caught by Graves at deep backward point and bowled Arlott to finishing with 2 for 35. Gordon dismissed Poppy Davies leg before as Sparks slipped further behind, with 105 still needed from the final 10 overs. Jones completed her century off 123 balls but Sparks lost their last six wickets for 20 runs.
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