HEATHER Knight is insistent Western Storm are about more than super-star India batsman Smriti Mandhana this season, writes Andrew Stockhausen
Top-scorer in Kia Super League in 2018, Mandhana blazed a trail at the top of the order as Storm booked their place at Finals Day for a third year in succession.
But when the hitherto prolific Mandhana suffered a rare failure in last weekend's home game against Lancashire Thunder at Taunton's Cooper Associates County Ground, Knight and her team-mates dispelled once and for all the notion that they are a one-woman team.
Proving their versatility, Storm chased down a victory target of 142 with six wickets and three balls to spare, thanks in large part to Devonian Knight and middle-order batters Fran Wilson and Sophie Luff.
Knight and Wilson each posted a half-century and staged a match-winning stand of 88 for the third wicket, while Luff hit valuable runs at the death to deliver a victory that will boost confidence ahead of Tuesday's showdown with Loughborough Lightning at Bristol.
"Winning in that fashion will do us the world of good," explained Knight. "To have any chance of lifting the title, a team must be able to find different ways to win games.
"We've become so accustomed to seeing Smriti piling on the runs at the top of the order and giving us a flying start, that it came as a bit of a shock to the system to see her get out so early.
"We were under real pressure at 18 for two in the fourth over and it was so unusual to see Fran out in the middle during the powerplay. But we kept calm, chipped away at the total and got to where we needed to be in quite a controlled manner.
"It shows we have more ways than one to win a game and beating Thunder like we did will give us a lot of confidence. It's important that, if Smriti fails, others are able to step up and deliver."
Wilson and Luff again stepped up to the plate after Mandhana was dismissed for 30 as Storm pursued a victory target of 143 against Southern Vipers at Southampton on Sunday. Their fourth-wicket stand of 58 set-up a nailbiting three-wicket win with one ball to spare.
Unsung heroes in the past, Storm's spin bowlers played a pivotal role in those back-to-back successes.
Between them, Deepti Sharma, Claire Nicholas and Knight sent down 12 overs and returned combined figures of three for 67 on a used pitch to restrict Thunder to a par score. They again combined to good effect 24 hours later, claiming 3-74 from 12 overs on another worn surface to frustrate Vipers.
Given that the Bristol County Ground is expected to serve up another slow pitch on Tuesday, Storm's spin triumvirate will again have a key role to play against Lightning.
"Knight commented: "It's not always about hitting fours and sixes on flat pitches. Sometimes, you have to play in difficult conditions and that's when it's most important to be able to take the pace off the ball.
"Deepti has come in and given us something a bit different in those middle orders. She gives us control at a time when the opposition is usually looking to raise the tempo.
"Claire bowled really well (against Thunder), taking a couple of key wickets and holding a catch. It's good to know that we have alternative options when the going becomes tough for the seamers."
Given that Amara Carr and Danielle Gibson have been ruled out of the rest of the tournament through injury, Storm are expected to name an unchanged squad as they attempt to complete the double over Lightning and extend their winning start to four games.
Storm (from): Mandhana, Priest, Knight, Wilson, Luff, Sharma, Dattani, Griffiths, Davies, Odedra, Shrubsole, Nicholas.