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Loughborough Lightning confident despite losing two key players in KSL

Loughborough Lightning
Loughborough Lightning

Loughborough Lightning are confident the loss of two key players for the final week of the 2019 Kia Super League will not knock them off course as they attempt to win the competition for the first time at next Sunday’s Finals Day at the 1st Central County Ground in Hove.

West Indies all-rounder Hayley Matthews and Scotland skipper Kathryn Bryce left the Lightning squad following Sunday’s win over Lancashire Thunder at Trent Bridge.  They join up with their national teams, as had been agreed before the KSL season began.

Lightning will first have to manage without them for their final match of the league programme when they meet Southern Vipers at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Wednesday in a televised match with a 6.30pm start in what will serve as a dress rehearsal for their meeting in the semi-final at Hove.

Matthews, who frequently opened the batting and bowling, took nine wickets with her off-spin and guided Lightning to a first win of the season with an unbeaten half-century against Yorkshire Diamonds at Headingley.

All-rounder Bryce’s accurate medium pace made her Lightning’s go-to bowler in the powerplay and in addition to her eight wickets she shared a match-winning partnership of 82 with Georgia Adams against Thunder at Emirates Old Trafford, batting at seven.

South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail joins the squad as an overseas replacement for Matthews. Bryce’s place has to be covered from within the existing squad, but head coach Rob Taylor said: “We’re confident we have enough options to keep our momentum going into Finals Day.”

Lightning, their place at Hove already assured after a run of five wins in six matches, made changes with the duo’s departure in mind at Trent Bridge last Sunday.  

Sri Lankan batter Chamari Atapattu took Matthews’s place at the top of the order, seamer Jo Gardner bowled two powerplay overs on her first appearance of the KSL season, going on to claim her maiden KSL wicket, and batter Abbey Freeborn, also making her seasonal debut, went in at four and helped England star Amy Jones lead Lightning over the line in an unbroken 47-run partnership.

Leg-spinner Sarah Glenn, who has been something of an unsung hero with nine wickets this season, also bowled in the powerplay, taking the key wickets of Australian opener Tahlia McGrath and the explosive India batter Harmanpreet Kaur on the way to KSL-best figures of three for 25.

Head coach Rob Taylor felt the changes made could not have gone better.

“We wanted to look at a couple of potential Finals Day combinations and the way the girls adapted to new roles we put them in was great,” he said.

“We have probably taken everything out of that game that we could in terms of what we wanted to look at for next week.
“The way that Chamari batted the way she did at the top and supported Amy was brilliant.

“We gave Sarah an over in the powerplay and she bowled it very nicely.”

Hosts Nottinghamshire had marketed the Lightning match as a no-extra-cost bonus for their fans ahead of the Outlaws versus Yorkshire Vikings Vitality Blast clash that followed it and plenty took up the offer.

Queues formed outside the gates ahead of the 11.30am start and almost 4,000 spectators were in the ground by the time Lightning were sealing their win, even though it was still more than an hour before the beginning of the men’s fixture.

Taylor felt playing in front of such a big audience could be another major benefit to his squad, especially the likes of Freeborn and Gardner.

“Sometimes when you go to a big ground you can have a few people in but they kind of get lost amongst all the white seats and that wasn’t the case today,” he said.

“I’m made up for Amy Jones for getting an unbeaten fifty on a Test ground with a big crowd in and for Abbey Freeborn going in there for her first game this year - and getting a little not out to see us over the line - will do wonders for her confidence

“Jo Gardner started nicely and finished her spell nicely and, although they got after her a little bit through the middle, for her to get her four overs in and pick up a wicket is great for us.

“That’s another two players who’ve had 20 overs on the field and you’d take 20 overs in front of 4,000 people ahead of 20 overs anywhere else.”

Taylor admitted that Bryce in particular was a big loss, adding: “Kathryn has contributed a lot for us, especially in the powerplay.

“Kirstie (Gordon) was a bit of a find for us last year, the year before it was probably Sarah Glenn and this year it has been Kathryn.

“She will be a big loss but everyone in this tournament has stood up at one point or another. We’ve got players who can play that role and it gives someone else another opportunity.

“Shabnim’s arrival gives us a straight replacement for Kathryn’s seam overs. She comes in with a bit of X-factor and a bit of fire and will definitely get stuck into the battle.”

Lightning, who rested Kirstie Gordon and Lucy Higham on Sunday, may take others out of the firing line on Wednesday, although Taylor is keen to see his players extend a five-match winning streak.

“The schedule has been quite crazy so it is important that we manage players to keep them fresh,” he said.
“But if you keep winning you get that good feeling in the dressing room and in the squad that everyone is fulfilling their role.

“Vipers won a tight game at our place at the start of the competition when we weren’t playing our best cricket and while we will be aiming to make ourselves as ready as possible for that first big game on Sunday, should we win and get one up on Vipers that will be a real positive going into Finals Day.”