Black and blue: Sparks win Hallyburton Johnstone Shield



Sunday 25 February 2024

University of Otago Oval, Dunedin




Emma Black : Equal most wickets in an Otago Sparks List A season (24)

Felicity Robertson : 100 List A wickets

All images: PHOTOSPORT

The Otago Sparks proudly lifted the national one-day championship after another close match on the weekend of the national Finals.

Nothing in this game came easy, on a chilly Dunedin morning with plenty of life in the Uni Oval deck.

The sun only briefly popped its head out during the day, for perhaps a minute, as the overcast conditions hung about, and the bowlers made the batters work hard for their runs - and Emma Black finishing as the summer's runway top wicket-taker, equalling the Saprks' season record.

The 2024 Final was a rematch of the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield decider two seasons ago in Queenstown — also won by the Sparks, after a brilliant Eden Carson bag on that occasion.

Then the Blaze had lifted the Shield the following season, chasing down a nailbiter against the Canterbury Magicians.

Now, the big match was between the two most recent champions.

And after rain on the previous day, it was a bowl-first kind of morning, Sparks captain Felicity Robertson wasting no time in sending in Leigh Kasperek and her colleagues at University of Otago Oval.

Blaze was again without Melie Kerr and Sophie Devine (both away at the WPL), but got key early runs and graft from Jess McFadyen - who had carried her bat a few games earlier.

Once again, McFadyen stood up at the top with a mature innings, weathering a tight, tough start to eventually top-score with 64 off 103 balls.

Jess Kerr would show off her cover drives, and survive a few chances, later in the innings with an important knock of 56, off just 65 balls, before Robertson stopped her in her tracks in the 46th over.

For the Sparks, Black (3/31) continued her dangerous ways, and she had a superb accomplice in Hayley Jensen who built and sustained the pressure with a tidy 1/28 off her 10 overs.

Whether swinging the ball, or moving it off the seam, they got good shape in their challenging opening spells.

Looking for impetus, Rebecca Burns was the first to depart, just as she'd reached double figures.

She found a couple of handy boundaries, but would fall victim in a Jensen wicket maiden at 21/1 in the eighth over, while bustling Black had a good battle on her hands with McFadyen.

Caitlin King never looked comfortable — narrowly avoiding chopping on at the hands of Black near the start of her innings, before Carson and Molly Loe came on as a double change.

After eeking out 19, King edged behind to give Loe her first wicket, and bring Georgia Plimmer to the middle at 72/2 in the 19th.

Robertson brought back Black for another one-over crack in the 21st, looking to separate the dangerous duo. But it was Black’s third spell that was the mustard.

Coming back in again for the 25th, the Blaze 95/2 by now, she got Plimmer caught off her first delivery, then put herself on a hat-trick by collecting a gift of a return catch from Kasperek - the Blaze skipper making the long walk back after a golden duck at 95/4.

Kate Chandler dug out the next one, but was run out ball-watching later in the same over, to have the visitors 96/5 at the halfway mark.

McFadyen recombined with Jess Kerr in a crucial fightback, their sixth-wicket stand reaching 62.

Suzie Bates had meanwhile come into the attack in the 32nd, and almost immediately grassed a return catch from Kerr on 7, at 112/5. It would prove costly - the visitors going on to bat our their overs for a hard earned total of 211/8.

It meant the Sparks would need little more than four an over, but it was no easy task in the still overcast conditions, and against Kerr who was top of her game with the ball, as well.

Opening the attack with young Tash Codyre, three of Kerr’s first four overs were maidens, conceding just a miserly two runs (with a leg bye) off her textbook five-over opening spell.

When the spinners came on, there was almost an audible sigh of relief from the batters, but Xara Jetly soon had the big wicket of Bates who rocketed a catch to Kasperek at 19/2.

Saffron Wilson had already fallen to Codyre, leaving Bella James and Blakely to get some momentum going. They picked their way through to the 15th over before Jetly struck again, James picking out the fielder.

But Blakely and Robertson managed to stay together for the next 17 overs, a crucial rebuilding phase that added 79 for the fourth wicket.

Blakely got to her 50 off 73 balls, and the Sparks were back in the game.

They had just started to move ahead when Kasperek tricked her into a caught behind at 117/4, after 32 overs.

One brought two. Robertson (38) became Jetly’s third victim at 124/5, and the chase was right back in the balance.

But this was the Sparks' day.

Keeper Polly Inglis, a former opener, was no slouch at six and would see it through to the end of the innings with an unbeaten 35* at almost run-a-ball.

It was the stability the Sparks needed through a tight back 10 overs as they worked towards chiselling down the required rate, while Olivia Gain lofted a six over long off, off Tash Codyre, to provide the momentum.

Gain chose the right moment to shine this season with a helpful cameo of 42 off 38. Codyre would have her revenge, but at 191/6 in the 46th over, the Sparks had the finish line in sight, as long as they didn't do anything crazy.

Jensen stayed with Gain and had the honour of hitting the winning single with 11 balls to spare. There would be no Dream11 Super Smash/HBJ double for the Blaze this time, as the Sparks capped a fine finish to their campaign.

It was captain Robertson's first time lifting the Shield, after having scored a fine 124 as ND captain in a high-scoring 2020 thriller at Seddon Park  and yet having come out on the wrong side on that occasion.






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