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    Fran Wilson, Sophie Luff fifties see Storm home in rain-soaked meeting
Fran Wilson, Sophie Luff fifties see Storm home in rain-soaked meeting
Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson put on 131 runs together. Source: Getty Images

Fran Wilson, Sophie Luff fifties see Storm home in rain-soaked meeting

Western Storm showed tremendous tenacity with the bat to claim an unlikely victory over leaders South East Stars in an entertaining Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy match at the Cooper Associates Ground in Taunton.

Set a daunting target of 299 to win from 44 overs in a rain-shortened contest, Storm was 236-5 in their chase when the weather again closed in to force an early conclusion, the home side winning by eight runs on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method thanks to assured half-centuries from skipper Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson and a blistering knock of 40 not out from Nat Wraith.

Stars looked to have done enough with Paige Scholfield, Alice Davidson-Richards, and Aylish Cranstone scoring 74, 65, and 63 not out respectively. But a stand of 131 from 19.5 overs between Luff and Wilson got the home side back into the game before the rain returned.

Storm, who became the first side to beat Stars in four matches this season, has now won back-to-back games and have a chance to put themselves in contention for the title when they host Southern Vipers at Bristol on Saturday.

With their confidence high after three successive wins, Stars made light of being asked to bat on a drying pitch after rain delayed the start of play by an hour and 15 minutes. Openers Bryony Smith and Alexa Stonehouse more than made up for lost time, putting on a whirlwind stand of 42 in five overs to give the innings a crucial early boost.

On loan from Sparks, seam bowler Ellie Anderson endured a difficult debut, conceding 22 from two overs with the new ball before being withdrawn from the attack. Slow left-armer Sophia Smale fared little better. Struggling with a wet ball and exposed to a short leg-side boundary, the England Under-19 international fell for 29 in three overs as the aggressive Smith opened her shoulders to plunder a 19-ball 30 with a quartet of fours and a six.

Seamer Mollie Robbins induced Smith to drive to cover point in the sixth over, but the respite was short-lived as Scholfield picked up the cudgels in a progressive alliance of 47 for the second wicket with Stonehouse. The South African-born right-hander scored a brilliant match-winning hundred against Storm at Bristol 12 months ago and looked set to repeat the feat when he smashed Smale for two towering sixes over midwicket in the space of three deliveries.

With Stars scoring at eight an over, it proved to be a good toss to lose. Stonehouse tried to cut Harrison and was superbly held by Wilson at backward point to depart for 29, only for Davidson-Richards to announce herself with a straight six at the expense of Amanda-Jade Wellington as the runs continued to flow.

At least the Australian spinner was able to exert some control during nine overs from the River End that yielded just 35 runs.

Otherwise, Storm's bowlers found the going tough in the face of relentless pressure from Scholfield and Davidson-Richards. Scholfield made 50 off 48 balls and the 100 partnership took just 107 deliveries as the third-wicket pair ruthlessly exploited anything short of length on an easy-going track.

Niamh Holland, first to come into the attack, needed just two balls to break the partnership, trapping Scholfield lbw for 74 with the score on 189. But the damage was done as Scholfield struck five fours and three sixes in an enterprising 64-ball innings.

Davidson-Richards reached 50 from 74 balls, was given life on 52 when dropped at extra cover by Chloe Skelton, and took her score to 65 from 85 balls before top-edging a pull shot to fine leg off the bowling of Alex Griffiths.

Cranstone then ensured there was no let-up in the tempo, the Surrey left-hander smashing a quickfire 63 off 40 deliveries, hitting eight boundaries and dominating an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 47 in four overs with Ryana MacDonald-Gay. Under the pump at the death, Storm were guilty of numerous misfields and two more dropped catches as the pressure told.

Asked to score at seven an over, Storm stumbled out of the blocks, Smale offering a return catch to Phoebe Franklin and departing in the third over. When Griffiths was bowled by Stonehouse soon after, the home side were 10 for 2.

Tasked with rebuilding, the experienced pair of Luff and Wilson could ill afford to take undue risks and instead adopted a cautious approach to the new ball. Despite this, Luff was lucky to escape on 8 when Franklin fumbled what should have been an easy catch off her own bowling with the score on 27.

The Storm skipper then helped Wilson to 50 off 52 balls, the third-wicket partnership growing in confidence as they maintained the required rate of around eight an over. They found acceleration to take their alliance to three figures in 41 deliveries, rotating the strike and making Storm work hard in the field.

Wilson was the first to reach 50 from 46 balls, while Luff took 18 more deliveries to reach the same milestone as the home side reached 122 for 2 at the halfway stage, needing a further 176 at 8.1 an over.

Just as the stand was becoming a concern, Stars made the breakthrough when Bethan Miles bowled Luff for 59. Her gutsy 73-ball innings, which included five fours, ended Storm's best chance of an unlikely victory. Wilson got a life on 61, dropped by Franklin at midwicket off Dani Gregory, but was soon out, stumped by Chloe Hill off the same bowler for 65.

In reply, the fifth-wicket pair of Wraith and Wellington took to the skies in an attempt to bring the required score down to manageable proportions. The only Storm batsman to hit the short boundary, Wellington helped himself to three sixes at the expense of Miles, who was relieved to take swift revenge when he had the Australian caught in the deep off a slog-sweeping drive for a 16-ball 30.

Needing 74 from the last 10 overs, Wraith and new partner Holland hit enough boundaries to put the Stars under pressure for the first time in the match. Their partnership was worth 44 when the rain came and they were dismissed with the score on 236 for 5 and Storm eight runs to the good.

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