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    Charli Knott beats Western Storm with superb century
Charli Knott beats Western Storm with superb century
Australian overseas Charli Knott led the way for Vipers with a century. Source: Getty Images

Charli Knott beats Western Storm with superb century

Charli Knott smashed a superb career-best 102 off 112 balls as Southern Vipers held on to beat Western Storm by four runs in a thrilling Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy clash at Bristol's Seat Unique Stadium.

The 21-year-old Australian all-rounder put on 91 and 115 with Maia Bouchier and Georgia Adams for the first and second wickets respectively as Vipers posted an impressive 295 for 5. Adams made 65 while Freya Kemp hit a quickfire 44 not out.

England captain Heather Knight and Fran Wilson laid the foundations for a successful chase, both scoring half-centuries in a third-wicket stand of 112 from 18 overs. Sophie Luff and Dani Gibson then put on an outstanding stand of 78 in nine overs to set up a dramatic finale. Both scored half-centuries before being dismissed with victory in sight, Freya Davies and Adams bowling well under pressure at the death to take two wickets apiece as Storm closed on 291 for 9.

Storm won the toss, put in Vipers and was then put firmly on the back foot as the visitors made the most of fielding restrictions and some loose bowling to come flying out of the blocks. New-ball bowlers Mollie Robbins and Gibson conceded too many fours as Knott and Bouchier put on 50 from just 36 deliveries.

Queenslander Knott set the tone with 14 off her first over, bowled by Robbins, and continued to pierce the field at will. The 21-year-old, who played positively from the outset, raced to her half-century from 37 balls, turning a delivery from Sophia Smale in front of fine leg for her tenth four.

Skipper Bouchier was also stern with anything short of length, hitting seven boundaries and contributing a 43-ball 34 in a progressive opening stand of 91 from 13.3 overs before succumbing to Amanda-Jade Wellington's leg spin, mistiming a drive and finding extra cover.

Any relief for Storm was short-lived as Adams picked up where Bouchier had left off, scoring at almost a run a ball to keep the pressure on the bowlers. The second wicket pair both treated Australia's Wellington with respect, but were able to milk the other bowlers, finding the gaps and running hard between the wickets to keep the scoreboard ticking over as the partnership reached three figures.

Vipers were 141 for 1 at the halfway stage and Adams, so often a thorn in Storm's side in recent years, soon reached 50 off 63 balls. Despite not scoring as freely once the ball had softened, Knott continued to work the field on both sides of the wicket, pushing a Wellington delivery to point and scampering a quick single to reach her maiden hundred from 107 balls in the 35th over.

But the Storm bowlers maintained their discipline, continued to bat and were rewarded for their persistence when slow left-armer Smale claimed the key wicket of Knott, who was bowled in the 38th over with the score on 206. England star Danni Wyatt came and went quickly, bowled by Alex Griffiths for 11, while Adams found Heather Knight at cover and departed for an 86-ball 65 as Smale struck another crucial blow. Charlie Dean then smashed the returning Gibson to mid-off, at which point the champions had lost four wickets in eight overs for 39 runs.

That was the cue for Freya Kemp and Georgia Elwiss to take a high-risk approach and give the innings a much-needed late boost. With the score on 245 for 5 in the 46th over, the pair threw caution to the wind in a high-octane unbroken stand of 50 off 29 balls.

The big-hitting Kemp was particularly destructive, hitting 5 fours and a six in an aggressive knock of 44 not out from 33 balls, while Elwiss found the boundary twice in a useful cameo of 18 from 10 deliveries as Vipers turned the screw.

In need of a good start, Storm instead failed to capitalise on the powerplay, losing openers Smale and Griffiths to England seamer Freya Davies in the space of 10 overs as the tournament favourites asserted their authority.

Aware of the need to redress the balance, the experienced pair of Knight and Wilson injected some urgency into the proceedings, finding the boundary rope often enough to keep their team at least in contention. By the time Storm reached the end of the restrictions on 62-2 in the 15th over, they were 39 runs behind Vipers at the same stage.

But while the two former England colleagues remained at large, Storm were in the hunt and by the time they reached the halfway mark on 125-2, needing a further 171 runs to win at 6.84 an over, it was very much a game on. Knight brought up an assured run-a-ball 50, while Wilson needed five more deliveries to reach the same landmark as the third wicket alliance reached three figures.

Just as Wilson and Knight were threatening to take the contest by the scruff of the neck, their partnership fell victim to a rare piece of misfortune. As Wilson drove straight back at Davies, the bowler accidentally deflected the ball onto the stumps with the unfortunate Knight out of her crease. Their talisman run out for 62, Storm suffered another blow six balls later when Wilson hoisted Dean straight to Wyatt at deep mid-wicket for a 63-ball 53 as Storm slipped to 145 for 4 in the 29th over.

Undaunted by the task of scoring at eight an over, Luff and Nat Wraith took the score to 191 before the latter hoisted Knott's off-spin to deep mid-wicket and departed for 28. Gibson then picked up the bat, hitting the same bowler for three boundaries in four balls in a bold statement of intent.

With 81 needed from the last 10 overs, Luff and Gibson set their sights on the spinners, matching each other shot for shot to put the Vipers under real pressure for the first time. Leading by example, Luff reached 50 off 47 balls, but was out for 51 when he hit Adams straight to mid-off in the 47th over, with a further 27 needed off 23 balls.

Gibson reached 50 from 31 balls with 7 fours as the chase went down to the wire, but Davies held her nerve to concede just six runs from the penultimate over. With 12 needed from the final over, veteran campaigner Adams effectively finished the job, trapping Gibson at mid-wicket with the second ball of the over before Robbins was run out.

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