Photo: John Heald Photography
England stars present and past underpinned a thrilling Northern Diamonds comeback victory over the Lightning in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy at a sun-drenched Kibworth Cricket Club.
Katherine Brunt led the way with a fabulous 4-23 from 10 overs and Nat Sciver and Jenny Gunn were key contributors as the Diamonds, narrow losers in Saturday’s opening round to Central Sparks, tigerishly defended a 152 target to win by six runs with 11 balls left.
The Lightning, at 144-9, needed eight off two overs with one wicket remaining before Beth Langston had Kirstie Gordon caught behind to spark jubilant celebrations.
A top order batting collapse looked like costing the Diamonds in the Leicestershire countryside as they slipped to 50-6 inside 15 overs.
But ex-international Gunn showed her continued value with a measured 40 off 77 balls, the top-score in the visitors 151 all out.
Current England stars Brunt and Sciver then put the skids under the Lightning with two wickets apiece as they fell to 57-5 before holding firm to set up the dramatic conclusion.
Other crucial Bank Holiday Monday contributions came from Alex Macdonald with 39 and Katie Levick with 2-26 from 10 overs of leg-spin. World Cup-winning seamer Langston finished 2-32 from 8.1.
At the start of this fixture, the medium paced in-swing of Kathryn Bryce and Teresa Graves prospered for Lightning amidst a series of miscued strokes on a slow pitch, with captain Bryce finishing with 4-16 from eight overs.
Lauren Winfield-Hill chipped the second ball of the match, from Bryce, to cover after the visitors had been invited to bat.
Sciver (10), Hollie Armitage (12), Brunt and Ami Campbell were also caught on a slow pitch. Campbell fell to a fabulous catch peddling back from mid-off by South African Michaela Kirk off Graves.
But then came the fightback as Gunn and MacDonald shared 81 inside 24 overs to advance from 50-6.
The pair played similarly composed innings, taking few risks and putting away the bad ball to erode the dominance of a Lightning side whose fielding was impressive.
Supplementing Gunn’s 40, which included six boundaries, MacDonald hit three fours in 76 balls from number eight.
They significantly advanced the Diamonds cause, to such a degree that they would have been disappointed with only 151, something they would have taken in a flash at 15 overs.
Five of the Lightning’s six bowlers all struck, with Teresa Graves finishing with two and the off-spin of Lucy Higham likewise. Sophie Munro and Yvonne Graves also finished with one wicket apiece.
The Diamonds lost their last four wickets for 20 in front of watching England scout Laura Marsh, including Gunn caught at mid-wicket following a top-edged pull at Kathryn Bryce and MacDonald bowled by Higham.
But wickets continued to fall as the Diamonds got their defence off to the ideal start courtesy of spearhead Brunt.
She uprooted Sarah Bryce’s off-stump for a three-ball duck and had sister Kathryn Bryce caught behind in the third over, leaving the score at 7-2.
It was Sarah Bryce’s second duck in three days after scoring five fifties in six innings in last season’s RHF Trophy.
England opener Tammy Beaumont was always going to be a key scalp.
She shared 44 for the third wicket with Abi Freeborn, only for the hosts to lose three wickets for six runs, with Sciver playing her part in all.
The Lightning fell from 51-2 in the 16th over to 57-5 in the 18th as Sciver had Freeborn caught behind and Beaumont lbw for 21 and Levick had Higham caught at cover by Sciver.
And things got even better when Levick trapped Shachi Pai lbw at 75-6 in the 25th over, the hosts still needing 77.
Kirk was then lbw to Brunt (92-7 after 29 overs) before the Graves sisters took the home target below 50.
Langston was sparingly used with the new ball by skipper Armitage, but she returned as tensions heightened and removed Teresa Graves caught and bowled with an accurate short ball - 109-8 in the 39th over.
Yvonne Graves and Gordon took the game to the wire, only for Brunt to get the former caught at mid-on in the 48th over and Langston to strike the winning blow in the 49th.
The Diamonds travel to Cambridge to face Sunrisers in their next match on Saturday.