Central Sparks 156 for 4 (Jones 52, Freeborn 52) beat Western Storm 136 for 6 (Luff 43, Wong 2-28) by 20 runs
Former England batter Fran Wilson finished on 22 not out, only for Storm to come up some way short on 136 for 6.
Having won the toss and elected to field, Storm effectively starved Sparks of the oxygen of early runs, removing openers Eve Jones and Wong in quick succession to put the visitors firmly on the back foot. In an eventful first over, Danni Gibson served up four wide balls down the leg side, conceded a straight-driven four to Jones and then atoned by inducing Sparks’ captain to chip to cover.
Rising star Wong departed in the next over from the Cathedral Road end, attempting to evade a Lauren Filer in-swinger, only to glove a catch behind with the score on 13.
Back in the fold after missing the majority of last season, off-spinner Claire Nicholas sent down two naggingly accurate overs from the River end to tighten Storm’s stranglehold on the game as their opponents were restricted to 35 for 2 in the powerplay.
Storm then allowed an opportunity to further tighten their grip on the game to quite literally slip through their fingers, Wilson dropping Freeborn on 10 at point off a cleverly disguised slower ball from Georgia Hennessy. Sensing an invitation to escape the shackles imposed hitherto, Freeborn and Jones played with increasing freedom, finding gaps in the field to score both sides of the wicket and keep the board ticking over.
Permitted width, Jones in particular thrived, cutting and pulling to good effect, while Freeborn proved adept at rotating the strike in a restorative partnership which realised 50 in seven overs.
Storm skipper Luff deployed six different bowlers in a bid to break the stand, but there was no stopping Jones, who harvested six fours on her way to a 42-ball half-century. At the point where she was required to go on and post a really imposing score, the 28-year-old permitted Storm much-needed respite, driving a length ball from Hennessy straight to Filer at mid-on and departing in the 16th over.
An alliance of 91 in 12 overs nevertheless provided Sparks with an excellent platform from which to take risks during the closing stages of the innings, and Freeborn assumed responsibility for guiding the visitors to a challenging total, raising the tempo to reach 50 from 46 balls, with three fours.
Yet it was new batter Campbell who took centre stage in a blistering knock, the experienced left-hander plundering three boundaries in one over from Filer to seize the initiative in a hugely productive alliance of 41 in 3.5 overs with Freeborn for the fourth wicket.
Freeborn hit Gibson to Luff at cover in the penultimate over, but Campbell finished with a flourish, helping herself to a fourth boundary and adding a further nine runs in the final over, sent down by Hennessy.
If containment was the name of the game for Sparks, they were initially disappointed. Wong bowled too short, Potts tended to over-pitch and openers Fi Morris and Hennessy took full advantage amid a barrage of boundaries to propel Storm to 34 in 4.5 overs and afford the chase a flying start.
But Sarah Glenn’s leg breaks slowed progress dramatically, Morris pinned in the crease and departing for 18, and Hennessy and new batter Luff forced to exercise a degree of caution against the England bowler, who sent down three overs for 16 runs.
Storm’s second-wicket pair prospered following Glenn’s withdrawal, with the busy Luff, in particular, forcing the issue against the seamers. At halfway, the hosts were well-placed at 66 for 1, needing a further 90 runs at nine an over, but with crucial wickets in hand.
When Eve Jones elected to take the pace off and threw the ball to off spinner Davina Perrin, Luff and Hennessy cashed in, plundering 17 runs from a lucrative twelfth over, which served to put Storm back on the front foot.
But the entire complexion of the game changed in a trice as Storm lost three wickets in the space of just six balls for the addition of four runs. Hennessy miss-timed a drive off Hannah Baker and was brilliantly caught by Eve Jones at mid-off for 27 as Sparks opened up one end. Wong then returned from the River end to strike a double blow, having the talismanic Luff held at short fine leg for 43 and then removing the hard-hitting Gibson in similar fashion two balls later.
Coming together with the score on 95 for 4 in the 14th over and with the asking rate having risen to above 10 an over, Wilson and Nat Wraith had their work cut out to make up lost ground. It proved too big an ask, Wraith offering a catch behind off Potts and Katie George being run out by Amy Jones as Sparks turned the screw and the chase fizzled out.