Brave shotplay douses Fire

By Connor Steel / Photograph from BBC Sport

IT SEEMS that the Ageas Bowl is becoming a real fortress for Southern Brave as they faced another home double headed clash on August 11, with both men and women sides thrashing their Welsh Fire counterparts on a highly thrilling afternoon in Southampton.

These victories mean the women’s side have reached the Hundred final next Saturday afternoon, whilst the men’s 11 have topped their group after a brilliant run of form over recent weeks.

Women: Southern Brave (166-3) beat Welsh Fire (127-4) by 37 runs

Electing to bowl after winning the toss, Welsh Fire did get off to a fairly good start with many dot balls in the opening two overs as crowd members began to arrive just after the 3pm start. On the 11th ball of the match Smriti Mandhana was dropped in the deep cover region by Alex Griffiths with a personal score of zero. The dangerous opening batsman was then bowled for five runs just moments later, but the umpire gave a no-ball and she was given another reprieve.

This paved the way for Brave to gain confidence and attack, bringing up their 50 in quick succession without losing any wickets as Welsh Fire bowlers bowled too full on a pitch good for batting. Fifty runs turned into 100 after just 63 balls with Danni Wyatt hitting 53, which included eight fours and a six in 34 balls before being caught off the bowling of Nicole Harvey with the score on 107-1.

But instead of crumbling Brave continued to play an attacking brand of cricket led by Mandhana, who hit 78 runs off 52 balls,; which featured seven fours and three sixes in just over an hour after her lucky escapes. This brought the home side past the 150-plus landmark with Sophia Dunkley adding another 23 not out, to leave Brave on 161-1 with four balls left. The Indian opening bat was then dismissed by Hayley Matthews, with the bowler further taking the LBW wicket of Stefanie Taylor one ball later.7

The hat-trick ball was clattered to the boundary four by Maia Bouchier, who was not expecting to be out of the crease for this innings. She also collected a single off the final ball to confirm a final score of 166-3 for the Brave; the highest ever total on the women’s side of the competition in its first year. Welsh Fire needed something special if they wanted to win this encounter and redeem some pride after a run of form that had left them in the bottom half following a promising start to the Hundred.

Although Bryony Smith and Hayley Matthews shared a forty-five run opening partnership, it was an unspectacular start that always seemed they were chasing a lower total. It took Fire 45 balls to reach their half century mark as the run rate rose to over two per ball, with the cause not helped with the wicket of Smith as she joined Matthews in the stands just seven balls after the first wicket. It was 70-3 off 59 balls when wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor was stumped for just four, perhaps being the last hurrah for any hope of a Fire victory with the result inevitable.

But credit needs to be paid to the Welsh Fire batsman as they refused to give up against good bowling and an ever-rising required run-rate. Georgia Redmayne (35*) and captain Sophie Luff, although slowly, built up a 50-run partnership off 40 balls before the latter was dismissed for 30 on the second-to-last ball with the score on 126-4.  One more run was added as Welsh Fire finished with an innings score of 127-4 off their Hundred balls, a fine effort that would have won most games so far in the women’s tournament.

However the visitors sadly lacked the superpower batting attack of Brave, which features many international players with the margin of 37 runs arguably reflecting the whole game. The victory means that the home side have won six out of seven games and qualified for the final at Lords on August 21 regardless of their results in the final run of matches including one remaining group game.

Men: Southern Brave (147-2) beat Welsh Fire (144-5) by eight wickets

In front of the BBC cameras Southern Brave won the toss and electing to bowl, perhaps trying to take advantage of evening dew as the Southampton crowd packed into Ageas for the second match of the afternoon.  It seemed to be a good decision as Danny Briggs took the wicket of David Lloyd just seconds after the batsman had smacked six runs over the boundary, leaving Fire on 11-1 off eight balls.

But sadly for Brave, this only brought the dangerous Ian Cockbain to the crease alongside Tom Banton; with the Somerset and England opening smashing 36 runs off 20 balls including three big sixes as he led the visitors past the fifty mark and beyond. Banton was then dismissed by Jake Linlott with the score on 69 off 43 balls, sparking a mini-collapse of another two wickets off 11 balls. Both Cockbain and Ben Duckett were dismissed as both Linlott / Briggs secured a pair of wickets each; which left Fire wobbling on 78-4 with 46 deliveries left.

Fire were not willing to go down without a fight as a partnership between Glenn Phillips (30*) and Leus du Plooy yielding 50 runs off 26 balls, meaning the visitors were 119-4 with 20 balls left to bat and looking to build a brilliant high target. However brilliant death bowling between Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills limited the Fire to just 25 runs off the last fifth of balls, taking the wicket of du Plooy for 30 with two balls remaining. Fire eventually set a target of 145 for Southern Brave off 100 balls, with BBC commentators saying the match was in the balance at the interval.

Upon the restart and change of innings, Irish batsmen Paul Stirling got Brave off the mark with 18 runs off just seven balls. All of these were made by boundaries, which included three fours and a six, before he was dismissed playing a risky shot off the bowling of Luke Fletcher. This gave Fire some hope, although this was quickly doused by the shot-play of captain James Vince.  A series of brilliant shots accompanied by Quinton De-Kock saw Brave hit 50 off just 30 balls, a mark that was reached off the boundary role with a reverse shot.

This partnership continued to grow and Brave raced to 100 runs off  66 balls, with Vince hitting six fours and one six in just 39 balls for his 53. The English international was dismissed with the score on 108 by spinner Qais Ahmad, who could have got his wicket 10 balls earlier if he had reviewed a LBW shout. TV replays showed the ball would have hit middle stump despite the umpire’s dismissal of all Fire appeals.

But the departure of his captain only served to pass de Kock the baton of this run chase, with the South African backed by Alex Davies’ 18 not out saw Brave reach their target off 87 balls, leaving an unlucky 13 balls left to spare. Just before the end and winning runs, de Kock raised his bat to the cheering Ageas crowd as he celebrated his own half century; finishing on 57* unbeaten with five fours and two sixes off 32 balls. For Fire it meant an exit from the competition, but Brave now sit top of the Men’s table and may be forced to rely on other results for a final guarantee before the single eliminator game between 2nd & 3rd the day before the final at Lords.

Before both sides hopefully play in the final stages, the men’s and women’s teams will host the Oval Invincibles on Monday afternoon. As in previous matches at the Ageas this will be a double header of cricket action, with the women starting at 3.30pm and the men’s encounter seeing its first ball at 7pm. Tickets are sadly sold out for both games as supporter popularity rises for cricket’s newest and quickest competition, with Brave one of the favourites to win the Hundred on both sides. Only time will tell whether both sides will lift the inaugural trophies next Saturday at the nicknamed Home of English Cricket.