Western Storm went one better than they did last year, when they beat Southern Vipers by 7 wickets on Friday to whisk the KSL trophy back to the west country for a year.
It was a victory that few people saw coming, particularly after the disastrous start to the Storm campaign against the same team at the Ageas Bowl on the opening day of the tournament. Bowled out for 70, Vipers wiped off the runs in just 9 overs, losing just one wicket, including 34 off one over from Kiwi import Holly Huddleston. Not only did Storm lose but they destroyed their Net Run Rate. Finishing level with another team and hoping to qualify was now out of the window!
With just five league games before Finals Day, it meant that Storm could not afford another loss. Could they pick themselves up before they played Loughborough Lightning, just two days later? In their favour the game was being played at home at Taunton - already the Storm's favourite ground (victories over Vipers and Lancashire Thunder in front of good crowds there in the 2016 campaign had ensured that). On the negative side was the lack of England World Cup heroine Anya Shrubsole for the second game in a row.
Storm won the toss and inserted their opponents - they like to chase, in fact they love to chase. They restrict Lightning to 108/9 with Stafanie Taylor taking 4/5. Half the Storm overs are bowled by non-internationals for 58 runs. Storm make a slow start in their run chase and still need 60 off last 10 overs, but they have wickets in hand. The equation comes down to 24 off the last three overs - Taylor and the bustling Sophie Luff are at the crease. They take 14 off the 17th over from Grundy, and they make it home with the first ball of the last over. Campaign back on track.
Next up is the long trip to York Cricket Club. Nine hours on the team bus from Exeter!! That's a long bus ride home if they lose. But Rachel Priest ensures it's a journey worth making as she smashes 106* off 65 balls as the Storm chase down Diamonds 160/7 in 17 overs without losing a wicket. Priest's contributions before that game had been 3 and 0. Who would have thought she would go on to be the tournament's leading run scorer (261 runs at an average of 43.5)?
Meanwhile Surrey Stars are breezing through the tournament. Stars are undefeated in their first three games. They are Storm's next opponents, and they keep their unbeaten run going, and ensure themselves of a place in Finals Day, after posting an imposing 169/6. Storm hit 26 off the first two overs of their reply, but end the powerplay at 43/4. There is no way back from there despite good knocks from Lissy Macleod (30) and Georgia Hennessy (28). Storm are bowled out for 117. Everything rests on their final game with Lancashire Thunder, and how Diamonds get on against Vipers, who are also already through to Finals Day. Level on points with Diamonds going into the games, Storm know they must win and get more points out of their game, than Diamonds get out of theirs.
Another good bowling performance, with Huddleston having been dropped to the bench, restricts Thunder to 123/5, and Priest smashes another 50 off just 22 balls this time, to take Storm to 67/1 at the end of the powerplay. The game looks done, but Storm slip to 73/4 and it is Sophie Luff 24* and Georgia Hennessy 16, who steady the ship with a 30 run partnership, which means Storm run out winners in the 18th over. There is no bonus point win, but the four points are enough as Diamonds lose to Vipers. It means Storm have made it to Finals Day in third spot, and have to take on Stars in the semi-final, who lost their unbeaten record in their final league game to Lightning. No-one gives Storm much of a chance.
Stars have only used their five international bowlers - Kapp, Sciver, Hartley, Farrell and Marsh throughout the entire tournament. Storm again choose to leave one of their international bowlers sitting on the bench. Skipper Knight has faith in the previously unknown 30 year old off-spinner Claire Nicholas; blonde pace bowler Freya Davies; and left arm spinner Jodie Dibble. Her faith is rewarded as Nicholas and Dibble go for just 30 off their eight overs, with Nicholas picking up Tammy Beaumont's wicket, and Davies 19 off three overs with the wicket of Lizelle Lee in her first over. Stars can only make it to 100/7 in their 20 overs and despite an early wobble (17/4) Storm manage to get over the line thanks to 37* from Stafanie Taylor and 21 from Hennessy.
No change to the Storm team for the final. Set 146 to win they make another positive start to the chase. The last over of the powerplay from Linsey Smith is taken for 25 runs - 22 of them to Rachel Priest. It means Storm are 62/1 at the end of the powerplay and ahead of the rate. Cool heads are required when Priest is caught on the deep midwicket boundary for 72 off 36 balls, and Stafanie Taylor can only bat with a runner. Fortunately Storm have the Ice Queen (Taylor) and the Duracell Bunny (Luff), who casually take Storm over the line with two overs to spare.
There have been some magnificent individual match-winning performances, as there always are in T20 cricket, but Storm's winning formula seems to be a realisation that there are eleven players in the team and each one of them has a job to do. On some days they will do it better than others, but provided enough of them stood up to be counted in each match they had a chance of getting over the line. It wasn't always pretty, but it was effective. A triumph for a collective belief in a team's overall ability.
Well played the Storm - worthy KSL2017 Champions!!