Given the calibre of players making up the Otago Sparks, it would be a rough call to label their fourth round win over Wellington Blaze an upset. However, after a tough opening fortnight, the Sparkies were at last on the board for 2017/18, while previously unbeaten Blaze finally met their match, surrendering their early points table lead to the Auckland Hearts in round four.
Sparks skipper Suzie Bates elected to bat and was no doubt fired up for the last of the weekend’s contests in her hometown, only to find herself caught off Jess Kerr’s first over.
When opening partner Morna Nielsen was stumped off Jess McFadyen on 15, there might have been a sense of déja vu in the Dunedin air. This time, however, the Sparks would regroup and kick on.
Polly Inglis (33), WHITE FERNS Katey Martin (37) and Leigh Kasperek (46), and England international Beth Langston (37) all made robust contributions in the middle order, Langston batting through to the 46th over to help ensure the hosts got up to 224 for nine in their 50 overs.
It meant Blaze needed a run rate of four and a half per over and, after their crushing win the previous day, many would have backed them to do it comfortably.
As it turned out, they would be pushed to the wire.
With Sophie Devine in attack mode, the openers soon had a 73-run partnership for no loss, Devine having charged to her 45 off 35 balls.
Suzie Bates denied her WHITE FERNS colleague a half century, bowling her to bring the first breakthrough in the 12th over.
Lucy Doolan followed Devine back next over, caught by Bates off Sophie Oldershaw, and from there the balance shifted as the Sparks attack began chipping out regular wickets.
Devine’s 45 would prove Blaze’s top score as the rest of the order began crumbling away; just not quickly enough for the Sparks’ comfort.
At 177 for seven they were still in it, but the hosts held their nerve.
Then — with Blaze needing eight runs from 14 balls, captain Bates bowlinmg herself, she got one through number 11 Wheturangi Charteris and onto the castle to seal her team's first win of the season.
The WHITE FERNS skipper finished with 3-33 and a day that finished much better than it had started out.