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RHF Trophy 2024, WS vs BLZ 35th match report, 10 July 2024

The fire 220 for 5 (Higham 62*, S Bryce 61) beat Western Storm 217 (Wilson 67, K Bryce 4-20) with five wickets

Lucy Higham and Ella Claridge produced a superb unbroken match-winning partnership of 105 in 22.3 overs to lead The Blaze to a five-wicket victory over Western Storm in a closely contested Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy contest at Cheltenham.

The visitors had set a modest victory target of 218 and made a great start to their comeback thanks to opener Sarah Bryce’s blistering 61 in 54 balls. But the outcome was uncertain as the Blaze slipped to 115 for 5 and they ultimately owed it to their sixth wicket pair, Higham and Claridge, who hit unbeaten knocks of 62 and 43 respectively to secure victory with 7.3 overs remaining.

Fran Wilson had earlier top-scored with 67 and added 62 for the third wicket with Sophie Luff after Storm was bowled out on a flat pitch. But Luff’s dismissal, bowled out by Kathryn Bryce for 31 runs, sparked a collapse that saw the home side fall from 133 for 2 to 217 runs in 16.2 overs, with their last eight wickets yielding just 84 runs. Bryce finished with 4 for 20 from 8.5 overs as Storm were bowled out inside 47 overs.

Storm are bottom of the table and have now lost their last five 50-over matches. Next week they face tough away games against Central Sparks and leaders Southern Vipers. The Blaze remain in fifth place after their fourth win of the season and are confident going into Sunday’s away game against title contenders Northern Diamonds.

Storm may have lost the toss and had to bat under low cloud cover, but they still got off to a good start. Corney and Smale grew in confidence and assurance with an opening score of 57, setting a solid foundation for the innings.

Kirstie Gordon ended the partnership by bowling Corney out for 23 on slog sweep, while leg-spinner Josie Groves held a catch off her own bowling and sent Smale back for 32, leaving Storm to slip to 71 for 2.

Wilson and Luff then forged an alliance characterised by fast running and aggressive intent, scoring 50 for the third wicket in 13.2 overs as the sun came out and batting conditions improved. But their nascent position was ultimately undermined by confusion as Luff steered a ball from Gordon to backward point and ran off, only to be sent back by Wilson and dismissed by Bryce’s throw for 41 balls 31. A partnership that had promised good business ended on 62 with the score at 133.

Determined to make amends, Wilson reached her second 50 in as many matches at the Festival in 53 balls, adding 35 in five overs with Nat Wraith to give the innings a fresh impetus. Cassidy McCarthy’s brisk pace undid Wraith, caught and bowled for 20 in 21 balls as the Blaze struck back once again.

Wilson had scored 67 off 68 balls when, in search of a ninth boundary, she hit a length ball from Heather Graham and found long-on, while Amanda-Jade Wellington was bowled by Grace Ballinger without scoring as the innings began to tilt. Kathryn Bryce then single-handedly wiped out the end, removing Alex Griffiths, Issy Wong, Niamh Holland and Ellie Anderson from the Chapel End within seven balls.

Storm needed a good start with the ball and got going early, with England star Tammy Beaumont falling to Wong for six. But Sarah Bryce seized the initiative after that, joining her elder sister in scoring 47 for the second wicket as The Blaze reached 75 for 2 at the end of the 10-over powerplay. The 24-year-old Scot was extremely optimistic from the start, managing 50 from 36 balls, including seven fours and a six, forcing Storm onto the defensive.

Undeterred, the home team weathered the storm and Griffiths bowled Marie Kelly to at least stem the flow of runs. Skelton then removed Heather Graham and took the decisive wicket of Bryce, who returned a full toss and bowled as the visitors slipped to 115 for 5.

With 103 more runs required, Claridge and Higham looked to steady the innings. The sixth-wicket pair initially adopted a low-risk approach to ward off the threat of Wong’s pace and Wellington’s legbreaks. As their partnership improved, so did their willingness to hit boundaries. Higham in particular played smoothly as the finish line came into sight.

Higham made 50 in 60 balls in the 39th over, sweeping Smale over the boundary for the sixth time to reach the milestone and put the outcome beyond doubt.