Southern Vipers triumphed in a thriller at Northampton to retain their Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy title, beating Northern Diamonds by three wickets with just two balls to spare.
Vipers had looked down and out at 109 for seven but the batting depth that had seen them secure victory in six out of seven group-stage matches and gain automatic passage to the final came good once again – Emily Windsor (47 not out) and Tara Norris (40 not out) adding 78 runs to see their side over the line. For Diamonds, it was third time unlucky: they have now appeared in and lost all three finals since the new women’s regional setup was put in place last year.
Vipers had been reduced to six for two after Beth Langston bowled both openers for ducks in successive overs, but a 41-run partnership between Georgia Elwiss and Maia Bouchier (33) stabilised their chase. Bouchier, who had been released by England on Friday to turn out for Vipers, played a couple of beautiful cover drives before smashing Phoebe Graham over deep midwicket for six.
Graham, though, retorted by having Elwiss tickle a bouncer behind the stumps for 14, while Bouchier was adjudged stumped off Levick in the 17th. The 35-year-old Jenny Gunn, still battling with the calf injury that had kept her out of Diamonds’ last three matches, then bowled Gaby Lewis for 24 through the gate, before picking up two further scalps in the 35th; but an unexpected late flurry from Windsor and Norris saw Vipers home, Windsor striking the winning runs through midwicket.
Earlier, the Vipers captain, Georgia Adams, had finished with career-best figures of four for 35 to bowl Diamonds out for 183 on a tricky end-of-season wicket, despite a gutsy 60 off 73 balls from Ami Campbell – her second fifty in two matches. With Charlie Dean away on England duty, Adams – who was at best an occasional off-spinner in the now defunct Women’s County Championship – has worked hard on her bowling this summer to great effect: her return here saw her finish the season as the Vipers’ second-highest wicket-taker in the competition.
Adams’ four wickets came as part of two cluster-collapses for the Diamonds. First, in the 21st over, she induced an edge from Linsey Smith on 31 to extra cover, before striking Sterre Kalis (18) plumb in front. Between times, the star of last year’s final, Charlotte Taylor, spun one past the bat of Leah Dobson and she departed for a four-ball duck, as Diamonds sunk from 72 for one to 73 for four.
Not to be outdone, 11 overs later, the middle-order followed suit – Diamonds losing another four wickets for four runs in the space of 13 balls. Bess Heath, who had battled her way to 25, swung across the line and was bowled by Tara Norris, before Adams intervened again with two more quick wickets – Jenny Gunn chipping a catch to midwicket and Beth Langston trapped LBW for another duck.
After breezing through their semi-final against Central Sparks at Scarborough three days previously, winning by six wickets, Diamonds should have been fine-tuned for the final. But having chosen to bat first, their openers Holly Armitage and Smith had got off to the sedatest of starts, playing out 47 dot balls in a powerplay that yielded just 34 runs and one boundary, edged by Smith through first slip. With wickets then falling like dominoes, it looked like it might be an early finish at Northampton.
That accounted without a gutsy innings from Campbell, who entered the fray in the 22nd over and initially played with some caution, reaching 27 off her first 48 balls. The next 25, though, yielded 33 more runs as she finally freed her arms. Though she was dismissed in the 50th over, hitting the ball down the throat of Windsor at long-off, she had done enough to set up a tricky chase for Vipers.