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    Stars beat RHFT holders Vipers with Tash Farrant 94 and Bryony Smith 90
Stars beat RHFT holders Vipers with Tash Farrant 94 and Bryony Smith 90
Tash Farrant fell short of a century but Stars still got over the line. Source: Surrey CCC/Getty Images

Stars beat RHFT holders Vipers with Tash Farrant 94 and Bryony Smith 90

Tash Farrant made a fairytale return to cricket as South East Stars defeated defending champions Southern Vipers by four wickets in a thriller on the opening day of the 2024 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in Beckenham.

England star Farrant, who has missed almost two years of cricket with stress fractures in her back, hit a career-best 94 and shared a stand of 165 with skipper Bryony Smith - a Stars record for any wicket - as the home side ran out winners with three balls to spare.

Australian Charli Knott's tidy figures of 2 for 35 kept Vipers in the hunt until the final over, but England opener Sophia Dunkley's composed unbeaten 48 sent Stars home with the tension mounting.

Earlier, Freya Kemp, one day shy of her 19th birthday, made a maiden List A 50, Georgia Elwiss 44 and Knott 41 helped the visitors to a competitive total, with Ryana MacDonald-Gay returning figures of 3 for 46.

Ella McCaughan and Knott survived some early fishing outside off stump to post an 80-run opening stand. The Vipers were bowled first. Knott drove MacDonald-Gay for successive fours, one square of the wicket and another straight down the ground. But Macdonald-Gay had her revenge thanks to a stunning catch by Phoebe Franklin, who dived full length to grab a delivery that fell over her shoulder.

McCaughan soon followed, trapped lbw by Danielle Gregory, but that proved to be the high point for the Stars spinner, who was later dismissed from the attack for a second head-high full toss, the first of which Vipers skipper Georgia Adams struck for the first six of the day.

Adams was the first of two lbw victims to slow left-armer Bethan Miles just as she was set to dominate, but the visitors were well placed at 190 for 3 with 13 overs remaining. Miles struck again, however, to end Elwiss' polished innings, which saw wickets fall at regular intervals, with Dunkley taking two with her legbreaks.

Vipers' total of 273 was down to Kemp, who mixed aggression with good running to reach 50 at more than a run a ball. Alice Monaghan also hoisted MacDonald-Gay for a huge six before falling to another wonderful catch by wicketkeeper Chloe Hill.

Farrant was promoted to open with skipper Smith and gave the hosts early life with five boundaries in the powerplay. Smith then clicked through the gears, hitting two fours in an over off Mary Taylor.

Farrant won the race to 50 from 56 balls, while Smith took 13 balls longer before picking up the pace, hitting Linsey Smith for two fours in an over to take Stars to 131 for 0 at the halfway mark.

History was made as the stand reached 156, eclipsing the 154 made by Dunkley and Alice-Davidson Richards against Western Storm at The Oval in 2021 before the fun ended when Linsey Smith hit Adams into the hands of Monaghan at cover.

Knott was quick to remove Paige Scholfield, but Farrant responded by lifting Freya Davies for a straight six as she moved into the 90s. There would be no maiden hundred as the excellent Knott struck again, removing the all-rounder for 94 with 78 required.

As the tension mounted, Adam damaged her left hand when she failed to hold on to a caught-and-bowled chance from Alice Davidson-Richards, but the dismissal wasn't costly as the England all-rounder was bowled by Linsey Smith for just 8.

Franklin struck three fours in a quick 19 before being run out with 14 needed from 15, but Stars got home with a scrambled leg bye in the final over.

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