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    Ryana MacDonald-Gay was a driving force as The Blaze's campaign came up short
Ryana MacDonald-Gay was a driving force as The Blaze's campaign came up short
Ryana MacDonald-Gay led the rout of The Blaze's top order. Source: Getty Images

Ryana MacDonald-Gay was a driving force as The Blaze's campaign came up short

England seam bowler Ryana MacDonald-Gay achieved a personal best with five wickets for 31 runs before opener Tash Farrant continued her impressive start to the season with an unbeaten 68 runs as South East Stars secured their second consecutive victory in the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy, thumping The Blaze in their match in Leicester.

England star Farrant, who hit a career-best 94 as Stars opened with a victory over holders Southern Vipers last weekend, led the way as Bryony Smith's side eased to an eight-wicket win with a 159 balls to spare.

The margin of victory could have been greater, but for a partnership that set a new record for the competition, saving The Blaze from a potentially embarrassing defeat after they had been reduced to 49 for nine after winning the toss and choosing to bat. The 77 runs scored by Skipper Kirstie Gordon and number 11 Grace Ballinger, who were batting at the 10th wicket, was the highest partnership for any side since the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy was launched in 2020.

England's Sarah Glenn returned for The Blaze for her first action since suffering a concussion injury a month ago. However, last season's runners-up were still without four first-choice players due to international commitments, with three others injured.

The batting order was severely depleted, leaving The Blaze in a vulnerable position from the outset. Opener Marie Kelly, one of the more experienced batters, was unable to make contact with MacDonald-Gay's opening delivery, resulting in a bottom edge that hit her stumps.

In her next two overs, MacDonald-Gay accounted for the wickets of Sophie Munro and Ella Claridge, who were unable to respond effectively to the fast balls aimed at the stumps.

The Blaze experienced a challenging start, with MacDonald-Gay's new-ball partner Phoebe Franklin identifying sufficient away movement to remove South Africa all-rounder Nadine de Klerk and Glenn in the space of four deliveries. Neither player attempted to run, with the former being caught behind, and Glenn edging to second slip, resulting in a reduction from 16 for three to 17 for five.

Teresa Graves was dismissed at extra cover off Franklin, but the Stars were soon celebrating again as MacDonald-Gay trapped Daisy Mullan in front.

A boundary apiece from Graves and Bethany Harmer provided The Blaze with a brief period of encouragement, but this was swiftly negated as another straight ball from MacDonald-Gay accounted for Graves and handed England A bowler the reward of a first five-wicket haul in women's List A cricket.

The Blaze were 39 for seven and there was no respite as England seamer Alice Davidson-Richards took over at the Bennett End and picked up a wicket first ball as Harmer was caught at backward point. MacDonald-Gay added to her impressive morning's work by taking a fine one-handed catch.

With Davidson-Richards dismissing Cassidy McCarthy, The Blaze was 49 for nine with barely 75 minutes played. It appeared that the end was approaching rapidly.

Gordon and Ballinger had a different strategy. The last-wicket pair held up the Stars for over an hour and a half, adopting a mature and measured approach. They resisted the temptation to throw the bat and concentrated on working the gaps in what is English domestic cricket's largest playing area. Only a quarter of their runs came in boundaries.

Ballinger achieved her previous List A best score of 18 runs before being dismissed leg before wicket to the off-spin of a relieved Smith. Gordon's unbeaten 41 runs represented her best List A score in English domestic cricket.

Their efforts had at least given themselves and their fellow bowlers a larger total to defend than had seemed likely. It was still not sufficient to prevent the Stars from achieving their goal, for whom Smith made 34 from 33 balls before Farrant took charge, hitting five fours and two sixes in her 81-ball innings.

Both Farrant and Smith made effective use of the shorter, straight boundaries before Smith was dismissed by a catch at mid-on following an 82-run opening stand. Gordon was the only other bowler to have any success, bowling Scholfield.

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