Preview: Southern Vipers vs Northern Diamonds

Bess Heath believes her friendship off the field with opening partner Sterre Kalis is helping the Northern Diamonds on it, as they prepare for tomorrow’s must win Charlotte Edwards Cup clash with already qualified finalists Southern Vipers at the Ageas Bowl.

The Diamonds head to Southampton (2.30pm) knowing they have to win their final group game to stand any chance of reaching Finals Day a week later at Northampton’s Wantage Road.

And they have been boosted by the inclusion of England stars Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver after missing the last two games having got married last Saturday.

Jenny Gunn and Rachel Slater have also returned to a 14-player squad following knee injuries, Gunn for the first time this season.

The qualification picture is as follows. The top team in each of the two groups advances to Finals Day plus the best second-placed finisher. Southern Vipers (23 points) are already assured of top spot in Group B, with Diamonds second on 14 having won three of five games so far. In Group A, Central Sparks are top on 17 points and South East Stars second on 16.

There are a maximum of five points up for grabs - four for a regular win, five with a bonus point.

The Diamonds need to win, ending the Vipers’ 100 percent five wins from five games record in the process, and hope that either Sparks lose at home to Western Storm tomorrow or the Stars lose at home to Sunrisers on Sunday.

A tie or rain (two points) in the Stars v Sunrisers could then bring net run-rate into play.

“It wouldn't be exciting if it wasn't that way for the final group game!” said in-form wicketkeeper batter Heath.

“I think we just have to focus on what we can do, and that is playing our best cricket. We've got to do what we can do, control what we can control, and we'll be just fine.”

The Diamonds head to the South Coast in buoyant mood having won their last two games against Thunder at Headingley on Sunday and Lightning at Durham on Wednesday to maintain hopes of a fourth successive regional final.

Heath and co had started the competition with two defeats in the first three games.

But, despite significant injury and unavailability, they have dug deep again - a standout trait of the team’s over the last two years.

We've got a lot of depth and a lot of confidence in the players to come in and perform,” said 20-year-old Heath.

“It's nice to have Lauren Winfield-Hill, Nat Sciver and Katherine Brunt about because they're amazing players to play with.

“But we know we have good depth for players to come in from the squad.”

Having missed the opening game of the season against Lightning through injury, Chesterfield-born Heath has returned to post scores of 19, 51, 13 and 60, the latter against Lightning on Wednesday at Durham’s Riverside ground.

In that game, she shared an opening partnership of 93 inside 13 overs with Dutch international Kalis, who is her housemate and close buddy. Only 10 days earlier, at the same venue in defeat against the Vipers, they also added 49 when belligerent Heath scored 51.

Against Vipers, classy Kalis made 18 and against Lightning she made 39.

“We worked together to build a partnership because I had a slow start, and Sterre was there to talk me through it and push me along,” said Heath, of Wednesday’s alliance.

“We provided the team with a good platform, which helped us in the end.

“We've definitely bonded over the last year. Living together certainly helps us on the field.

“You get to see both sides of the person and not just the player on the cricket field.

“Sterre knows me very well now, so we are able to use that relationship when we're batting together. She understands when I'm getting in my own head, which might have been the case at times (on Wednesday).

“You can work together on the partnership to get you out of those tough times.

“Sterre has improved over the years, and she is a great player. She has that experience behind her that she can draw on. I was proud of her performance against Lightning.”

Vipers are set to include current and former England players Maia Bouchier, Charlie Dean, Georgia Elwiss and Danni Wyatt in their team on Saturday as they look to continue the form which has seen them advance direct to the final by finishing as the best placed group winner.

The other two teams who qualify for Finals Day will face off in a semi-final immediately beforehand at Wantage Road a week on Saturday.


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