Even if it has struggled to command the attention it deserves in the busiest of British summers, the fourth and final instalment of the Kia Super League has been short on neither quality nor narrative.
Sunday’s Finals Day at Hove will be the final chance to watch Western Storm, Loughborough Lightning and Southern Vipers in action, before the women’s game’s primary short-form competition in England and Wales is replaced by The Hundred next year.
There have, unsurprisingly, been plenty of reflective thoughts in recent weeks about the rationale behind disbanding six franchises that have found their footing and attracted genuinely passionate fanbases in their short lifespans, but perhaps the build-up to the competition’s climax is not the time for that.
Instead, it is a chance to look forward at the two remaining games, with Western Storm strong favourites to lift the title thanks primarily to their all-star batting unit.
The competition’s unique format means that by virtue of being group winners – only a Jemimah Rodrigues fifty in a dead rubber prevented them from going through with a perfect record – the Storm go straight into the final, watching on while Vipers and Lightning contest the lunchtime semi-final.
That game’s most intriguing subplot involves England’s T20I opening pair from this summer’s Ashes, both of whom have enjoyed confidence-lifting returns to form after miserable runs against Australia.
Amy Jones made only 26 runs in six white-ball innings across the Ashes but has taken the lessons on board. “I feel like I’m starting a bit slower, but it’s not really been a problem as long as I keep my head and don’t throw it away,” she told the CricketHER website.
“That’s been one of the key learnings from the Ashes, is you have time – it’s amazing what a bit of pressure can do to you, all of a sudden you feel like third ball you have to play a big shot. I feel a lot more in control and confident to build an innings throughout.”
Danni Wyatt, meanwhile, will overtake Rodrigues as the tournament’s leading scorer if she can make 40 more runs on Sunday, having herself contributed just 55 in five Ashes innings. Wyatt is as clean a hitter as anyone else in the country on her day, and proved as much against Surrey Stars when she struck a remarkable 60-ball 110, becoming the first English player to score a KSL century in the process – if the Vipers stand a chance, much of the burden will fall on her shoulders.
Jones has led the scoring charts for Loughborough, with 300 at 37.50 and three fifties, but their diminutive South African overseas player Mignon du Preez has been something of a revelation; with a T20I strike rate below 100, she had never previously been a free-scoring player, but has hit 246 runs at a rate of 144.7 in this competition.
Loughborough go into the semi as slight favourites, but will have to make do with only two overseas players. Shabnim Ismail, the South African seamer, was due to replace Hayley Matthews in the squad after the West Indies allrounder left for international duty, but visa issues prevented her playing in the final league game, and as such she is ineligible for Finals Day.
The Vipers, meanwhile will hope that Tash Farrant’s flying form continues. Farrant first broke into the England team as a 17-year-old back in 2013, but despite a reasonable return in T20Is has not played international cricket for over a year; she will hope to be on the fringes of the T20 World Cup squad, after taking 12 cheap wickets in the KSL.
But there is a sense that the semi represents little more than a chance to become runners-up, so consistent have the Storm been this season. Unlike last year, they have their full array of stars available on Sunday, and in Rachel Priest, Heather Knight, Fran Wilson and Smriti Mandhana, they have four of the top seven run-getters in the tournament.
The blueprint has been fairly straightforward, with openers Priest and Mandhana flying out of the blocks, Knight knocking it around in the middle overs and Wilson finishing things off. Meanwhile, seamer Freya Davies has 18 wickets in the competition – six more than her nearest rivals.
If it would be fitting for Loughborough to become the KSL’s fourth different winner in as many seasons, and testament to the tournament’s competitive nature, it is hard to argue that the Storm would not be worthy champions. They have won 25 games across four summers of the KSL, six more than anyone else, and have been the standout team all season – there is a sense that the trophy is theirs to lose.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo