Manchester Originals 91 for 5 (Wolvaardt 38, Levick 2-12) beat Birmingham Phoenix 87 (Devine 27, Morris 5-7, Ecclestone 4-11) by five wickets
“I knew I’d got the first women’s five-for, but I didn’t know it was the best in either competition,” Morris beamed when informed she had better Josh Little’s 5 for 13, also for Manchester Originals, in the men’s competition. “I’ll take that!”
“I think it’s probably my best-ever day in cricket, to be honest,” she added. “How the last couple of years have gone, not playing much in last year’s Hundred, to come in and do that first game I’m absolutely buzzing.
“I got a bit of help from the pitch. Having Sophie (Ecclestone), Wello (Amanda-Jade Wellington) and Mahika (Gaur) bowl so well up front, I kind of had the easy job. All I needed to do was bowl straight, and I seemed to do it alright.”
Victory capped off the individual performance, though it was harder than it should have been. Laura Wolvaardt and Ami Campbell did the brunt of the work with a stand of 69, but a cascade of dot balls and unnecessary dismissals saw the chase go deep into the final set, with the hosts eventually getting over the line by five wickets.
After two abandonments, Originals won the toss and set about putting in a near-perfect performance in the field. Maybe there was a hint of pent-up frustration at being one of two teams, along with London Spirit, to have not taken the field this season. But at no point did they clutch or over-stretch. Indeed the key to restricting Phoenix to such a low total was drying things up initially.
Gaur sent down all 20 of her deliveries inside the first 30, for just 18 runs. The hype around the tall left-hander is justified, and though she went wicketless, the control assumed, particularly against Sophie Devine, gave a few reasons why England capped her at “A” level this summer.
In a patchy Phoenix line-up, Devine either had to do something spectacular, or bat through. But after Ecclestone picked up her first, spinning one between bat and pad and having her stumped by Ellie Threlkeld, the White Ferns legend’s attempt to slog-sweep the left-arm spinner over square leg resulted in a smart catch by Morris on that boundary. Two deliveries later, Erin Burns was caught behind to leave Phoenix 52 for 3 from 53.
Morris came on for the next set, and early confirmation this would be her day came when Amy Jones’ was hit on the full in front of middle and leg attempting a reverse sweep. Phoenix unravelled, losing their last six for 30 runs in 40 deliveries, squeezed by Originals as much by Ecclestone’s captaincy as her frugality with the ball.
Emily Arlott, trapped on the crease, was the skipper’s fourth wicket, and if anyone was going to get five this afternoon, it would surely be the world’s best white-ball bowler. But Morris had taken three in eight deliveries by the time Ecclestone returned for her final five. And when those passed without incident, Morris needed just one more to bank her five-wicket haul and put Phoenix out of their misery with four of their 100 balls to go.
What jeopardy there was in the chase came first ball when Emma Lamb gloved down the leg side after Tess Flintoff found a bit of lift off the pitch. Jones’ immaculate take had the orange shirts up and about. Had the keeper-batter affected a stumping when Ami Campbell (on seven) advanced down the track and found nothing but air when 77 were needed, or had there been a direct hit at the non-striker’s end when Campbell (13) set off for an ill-judged single, things might have got a bit tastier.
Originals, however, wilfully chose a spicy ending by complicating what should have been a bland procession to the finish line. Wolvaardt, responsible for some of the more mouth-watering moments, whether skipping and driving over the top, slapping through point, or working behind square on the leg side, could have seen things home. But in opting for a quick finish, the Proteas opener was trapped lbw by Hannah Baker when she tried to swipe the leg-spinner across the line.
Campbell then also passed up that opportunity, skipping down and hitting Katie Levick to midwicket. As Morris arrived, you wondered if this would be her full day out. Alas, a two-ball duck later – to Levick – served as a reminder the game only loves you for so long.
Ecclestone then drove down the ground to tie and, after playing out seven dots, Kathryn Bryce squeezed a drive through backward point for four to put everyone out of their respective miseries.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo