Knight’s tough summer ends in final flourish
Unbeaten 78 clinches Western Storm victory England captain back to her best after Ashes loss
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)