Knight’s tough sum­mer ends in fi­nal flour­ish

Un­beaten 78 clinches West­ern Storm vic­tory Eng­land cap­tain back to her best after Ashes loss

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - Is­abelle West­bury at Hove

If Ben Stokes was in, Eng­land’s men had a chance. If Heather Knight is in, West­ern Storm do too. As the Eng­land cap­tain re­servedly raised her bat to the crowd for her 38-ball 50, it was not quite in the guise of Stokes last week, so in­tent on the task at hand that he failed to ac­knowl­edge his cen­tury land­mark at all. But it was close. Knight is a woman with a lot to prove, and in a hurry to do so.

An Ashes hu­mil­i­a­tion, a coach sub­se­quently re­moved and Knight the one still stand­ing. What the crowd was of­fered at Hove, as au­tumn be­gins and the fourth and fi­nal ver­sion of the Kia Su­per League ends, was Knight back at her best, and at the very first op­por­tu­nity.

Her un­beaten 78 in an im­prob­a­ble chase showed that Knight has the met­tle to suc­ceed for a long and run in the fifth over, she be­came the first, and now only, woman to hit 1,000 ca­reer runs in the Su­per League. A per­sonal land­mark but, at that stage in the game, un­likely to have even crossed her mind – so far be­hind the rate did West­ern Storm ap­pear to be.

When the Storm’s Sm­riti Mand­hana, star of last year’s tour­na­ment but un­der­achiever in this one, fell first ball to Tash Far­rant (two for 19) with only two runs scored, 172 looked a tow­er­ing chase.

The Storm had just con­ceded their equal-high­est num­ber of runs, and to win would re­quire the high­est suc­cess­ful run chase in a knock­out game. When Rachel Pri­est – big hit­ting, clean club­bing Rachel Pri­est – fell not long after, the head­lines were be­ing writ­ten. Danni Wy­att’s 28-ball half-cen­tury and 73 in all, the tour­na­ment’s lead­ing run scorer, had surely steered the South­ern Vipers to vic­tory. Not in Knight’s world.

“I thought that they were on for 200-plus at one point, the way that Danni and Tammy [Beau­mont] were go­ing,” con­ceded Knight. “When they were in the mid­dle, it was a very good track, re­ally hard to de­fend, re­ally hard to stop the flow of runs. But I thought we bowled out­stand­ingly. Freya [Davies] and Anya [Shrub­sole] pulled it back nicely, man­aged to pick up a few wick­ets. We knew if one of the top four was there at the end we were in with a good chance, so I’m de­lighted it was me and happy to pick up the tro­phy.”

Cha­peau, too, to Deepti Sharma (39 not out from 22). If Stokes had Jack Leach, then Knight had a more-than-able ac­com­plice in the In­dian all-rounder. In just her first over­seas tour­na­ment, Sharma has been de­nied much of a chance to bat this sea­son, so dom­i­nant and con­sis­tent have the Storm’s top five been. But she was ready, and wait­ing, and with a com­fort­ing thwack of the bat first ball, four runs, Knight ex­haled in re­lief – it was not all on her to do it alone.

“When she came in she took the pres­sure off me mas­sively” Knight said. “And that’s when it be­came quite an easy equa­tion. That’s ac­tu­ally the point when I started to get ner­vous! But I’m just de­lighted that we were able to do that in a high-pres­sure sit­u­a­tion and what a fi­nal to fin­ish off the com­pe­ti­tion.”

It has been a tough sea­son for Eng­land’s women and next year car­ries a lot of un­cer­tainty. But there is hope, too. With Knight at the helm, a steely ex­pres­sion and a glint in her eye, this is a woman just get­ting started.

Cham­pi­ons: West­ern Storm’s Heather Knight cel­e­brates with the Su­per League tro­phy – the Storm’s sec­ond in four years – after her su­perb match-win­ning in­nings (be­low)

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