CE CUP FINALS DAY: The Bryce Is Right – Come On Down!

167 runs from Blaze’s brace of Bryces (try saying that quickly after a couple a couple of pints down Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem!) saw the Notts-based side finally win a regional trophy at the third time of asking, after having lost both of last year’s finals to Southern Vipers following their regeneration from Loughborough Lightning in 2023.

Earlier in the day – the first (and I guess, last) in the brief history of the tournament to feature two semi-finals – Vipers were sent home by Stars; whilst Blaze had progressed at the expense of Sparks.

Having thrashed Stars by a country mile just 3 days ago at Hove, Vipers fell just 6 runs short chasing 163 for victory. Some poor bowling at the death, with Lauren Bell’s 16th and Georgia Adams’ 17th overs conceding 13 and 11 runs respectively, allowed Stars to post a total that was perhaps 10-15 runs over par. Having let Stars get away towards the end, Vipers really needed one of their top order to take advantage of what was a decent pitch and post a really big score, but whilst Danni Wyatt and Charli Knott both got starts, neither could go on, and it was left to Charlie Dean to try to clean up behind them. Dean is a useful late middle-order bat, and may one day be more than that, but for now expecting her to get the job done by herself when the top order has failed is a big ask. She’s done it once this season, against Diamonds, but she couldn’t quite repeat that today, and Vipers fell by the wayside, missing their first final since the late 17th century.

Blaze in contrast kept better control of the ball in their semi-final against Sparks, leaving them requiring a somewhat more manageable 141. A partnership of 58 between Tammy Beaumont and Kathryn Bryce gave them a solid platform, before 19-year-old Josie Groves came in at the end to smash 14 off 4 balls at a Strike Rate of (fires up Excel…) 350 (gosh!) and get the Blaze over the line.

Having been pushed to the wire in their semi-final, Stars had to come right back out again for the final, with barely time to change into clean socks. We’d debated before the game whether the advantage was to play the first semi-final and have some time to rest-up, or play the second semi and carry your momentum through to the final. The physical advantage of the former, or the psychological advantage of the latter?

It subsequently became clear that today at least, the psychological advantage was outweighed by the lack of time to rest and recuperate. Batting first, the Stars looked slightly off the pace second time around, and fell away significantly at the end of their innings, compared to their dig earlier in the day.

If it hadn’t been for the first over of the final going for 18, Stars would have been well, well short. Blaze bowled well overall, but the stars were Heather Graham, who was clinically efficient taking 3-16; and Josie Groves, who polished-up her earlier heroics by taking 3-33, adding two more stumpings to the one she’d grabbed earlier. (Remarkably, she had never taken a stumping in regional cricket prior to today.)

Stars found the going harder and harder, falling off significantly at the end of their innings, scoring just 16 runs in the death phase, compared to the 38 they’d struck against Vipers.

Blaze’s reply got off to a luckless start with Tammy Beaumont run out at the non-striker’s end when a Marie Kelly drive was deflected onto the stumps by Tash Farrant. But… was it unlucky? Watching the replay, it looks pretty clear that Farrant did it deliberately. I’d heard rumours that some players had been practising turning what was once a rare, random mode of dismissal into a calculated play; and if players like Farrant can start doing this consistently, it adds a fascinating new dimension to the game, with batters having to be more careful than ever about backing-up.

Kelly also went early, but that brought the Bryce sisters together and once they got going, Blaze never looked like losing. The Bryce’s partnership to dismantle Sunrisers at Lords a couple of weeks ago was one of the most dominant batting displays I’ve seen in regional cricket, and they repeated the trick today, with Kathryn the first to pass 50, followed by Sarah as the Blaze engaged cruise-control and sauntered to victory.

The Stars were again suffering for playing their matches back-to-back, visibly tiring in the field. (The one player who kept going was Sophia Dunkley, exposing the gulf in fitness that remains between the England players and their regional counterparts, despite several years now of domestic professionalism.)

The margin of victory, with “just” 8 balls to spare, might look slim on the scorecard, but for Blaze it was never in doubt – a fully deserved title, having topped the league by a clear game with just one defeat in the T20 season. For the Bryces it represented a second triumph, after having taken Scotland to T20 World Cup qualification earlier in the summer. Both achievements will I’m sure have been equally sweet.

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