While the drama of the 1st Test of the men's Ashes series unfolded at Trent Bridge, the women's County Championship also showed why cricket is such an absorbing game.
The First Act of the play took place at Hurst College in Sussex on Saturday, when Berkshire visited Sussex to play the game that had been cancelled earlier in the season. Sussex knew that if they could win this game and the next day's against Essex they would make the County Championship play-off. Berkshire won the toss and elected to bat, and once again Heather Knight (78) and Fi Morris (47) got them off to a superb start on what looked like an excellent batting track. They put on 115 for the first wicket with Knight playing beautifully off her legs and the pair running some sharp singles. Knight had been fortunate to survive a run-out appeal when in the forties, and Morris finally perished in similar fashion as she hesitated and Sarah Taylor at midwicket whipped in a smart throw. A few overs later Arran Brindle made the important breakthrough enticing a caught and bowled chance out of Knight, which she gratefully accepted. It signalled a stagnation in the Berkshire innings as off-spinners Georgia Adams and Chiara Green found a good line and length. Wickets too began to fall - 134/2 became 142/6. Emily Gerke (12) and Daisy Gardner (16) briefly sparked a revival but it was snuffed out by Alexia Walker (3/38) and Berkshire finished on 182/9. In reply Sussex were going along very sweetly at 72/1 in just the 12th over when Alice MacLeod struck twice. Sussex then slipped to 80/4 but Arran Brindle (51) and Alexia Walker (32) still seemed to be in control. But when they both fell Sussex had slipped to 135/7. 49 were still needed but with plenty of overs in hand. Freya Davies (8) and Izi Noakes (13*) eaked out 28 of them in a patient 14 over partnership and then Rebecca Silk (12) calmly came in to take Sussex over the line with two wickets and 25 balls in hand.
The Second Act unfolded on Sunday in Harrogate in Yorkshire as the Tykes took on Kent. Yorkshire welcomed back Katherine Brunt to their bowling attack, and Kent were at full strength, including Laura Marsh as a bowling option. Kent opted to bat and made a solid start through Tammy Beaumont (18) and Charlotte Edwards (93), but Yorkshire's bowlers never allowed them to get on top. Kent reached 176/3 with six overs to go, but failed to capitalise in the last few overs and could only post 188/7 with Katie Levick claiming 3/42. Lauren Winfield (69) and Jess Watson (53) got Yorkshire off to a rattling start going at seven an over initially and reaching 137 before Yorkshire lost their first wicket. Despite a slight wobble Kathryn Doherty (14*) and Salliann Briggs (12*) brought Yorkshire home with just 4 wickets down, which restricted Kent to just one bowling point to add to their three batting points. Whether the teams realised the significance of this at the time is unlikely, but the points earned by both teams left Yorkshire 0.05 average points above Kent in second place in the league.
The Third Act took place at Garron Park where Sussex took on Essex. A win was all Sussex needed to clinch a spot in the play-off, but against who they did not know. Having reduced Essex to 23/4 after a clinical 14 over opening spell by Izi Noakes (3/26) and Freya Davies (2/6), Sussex's win never really looked in doubt. Essex skipper Jo Cook (27) and some late resistance from Hannah Courtnell (34*) took the Essex total to 122 before they were bowled out in the 45th over. It was never going to be a challenging target and openers Georgia Adams (28) and Arran Brindle (15) made serene progress to 46, before they both surprisingly got out. But skipper Sarah Taylor (35*) and the hard-hitting Alexia Walker (24*) saw Sussex to the win they needed to finish top of the division after Kent's loss at Yorkshire.
The Final Act will take place in Middlesex next Saturday. Yorkshire have had one game cancelled against Middlesex. They
have confirmed that they will play this game next Saturday (20th July).
They must win and get at least 4 bonus points to maintain their place in
the play-off final v Sussex.
Meanwhile, on a separate stage, Berkshire beat Nottinghamshire in a dramatic last over run chase. Notts set Berkshire a challenging 216 to win thanks to some generous bowling and 86 from Jenny Gunn and 64 from Sonia Odedra. But with Heather Knight in magnificent form Berkshire were always in with a shout. She did not disappoint with another great knock of 83 (which takes her tally this season to 604 in eight innings at an eye-watering average of 100.66 - ECB are you watching?), but when she and Carla Rudd (35) were out it looked like the Berkshire charge would come to an end. Fortunately they ended their season on a high as Linsey Smith (20*) kept her cool and they just snuck over the line in the last over with just two wickets in hand.
And in the final game of the weekend Warwickshire beat Surrey by 119 runs. Warwickshire scored a respectable 198/7 with almost all their batsmen making double figures. No-one really went on to a big score, but Marie Kelly (41) and Liz Russell (38) lead the way. In reply Surrey were bundled out for just 79 in 32 overs. Only Nat Sciver with 34 put up any real resistance as Kelly made it a good day with 4/13.