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Dane van Niekerk proves Invincible as the Hundred is launched with a thriller

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Published in Cricket
Wednesday, 21 July 2021 13:44
Oval Invincibles 139 for 5 (van Niekerk 56*, Kapp 38, Cross 3-28) beat Manchester Originals 135 for 6 (Lee 42, Farrant 3-25) by five wickets
A fluent, unbeaten half-century from captain Dane van Niekerk saw Oval Invincibles recover from 12 for 3 to chase down 136 with two balls to spare on the opening night of the Hundred as English cricket ushered in its new 100-ball competition.
The standalone women's match launched the competition in front of a 7,395 crowd in at The Oval, with Kate Cross, Manchester Originals' captain, admitting "we don't know what a good score is so we thought we'd go out and give it a go" as she opted to bat first.
The Originals' total of 135 for 6 was held together by Lizelle Lee's anchoring innings of 42 off 39 balls, with middle-order cameos from Harmanpreet Kaur and captain Cross injecting some life into the innings and dragging them up towards a defendable score.
Cross struck three times in her first seven balls in the run chase, as the Invincibles slipped to 12 for 3 and then 36 for 4 as their hopes quickly faded. But van Niekerk added 73 with Marizanne Kapp to keep them in the game, profiting from two dropped catches and cashing in when the Originals' spinners dropped short.
Kapp fell for 38 to a sharp leg-side stumping by Ellie Threlkeld - though subsequent replays suggested she had taken the ball in front of the stumps - with 27 needed from 17 balls, but Villiers' straight six off Sophie Ecclestone kept the rate in check, and van Niekerk flashed an edge for four past Threlkeld with the scores tied to seal the win.
Opening salvo
Kapp took the new ball for the Invincibles and emulated Sussex's James Kirtley by starting a new format of the game with a wide, spraying one down the leg side to her compatriot Lee. But after an ignominious start, Kapp found both rhythm and nip, seaming the ball to beat Lee's outside edge twice in her first set of five balls.
That was enough for van Niekerk to decide to leave her on for a second set of five balls, and the move was vindicated almost immediately, as the in-form Emma Lamb nicked her second ball through to Sarah Bryce. Umpire Tim Robinson was the only person in the ground to miss the noise as the ball passed the bat, and his not-out decision was quickly overturned via the DRS.
But with the powerplay shortened to 25 balls, the Originals decided to keep attacking. Lee dispatched Tash Farrant for consecutive boundaries to get herself up and running, before crunching Shabnim Ismail for four through point, while Georgie Boyce lashes consecutive fours off Kapp as the Invincibles conceded 31 runs in the final 15 balls of fielding restrictions.
Kaur, blimey
The Invincibles opted to use their spinners - van Niekerk and Mady Villiers - in initial 10-ball bursts from each end, and after Villiers had Boyce caught at extra cover, van Niekerk opted to keep her on for a second consecutive set of 10 balls from the Pavilion End. It proved to be a mistake: having conceded 13 from her first 15, Villiers was taken for four fours in five balls as Kaur evoked the spirit of Derby 2017 and found full flow.
Farrant had Lee caught at cover for an anchoring 42 off 39 and removed Kaur shortly after, dinking to short fine leg, but her 29 off 16 balls had added impetus to the innings. Cross and Ecclestone traded sixes in the final set of 10, and while Farrant added a third by having Ecclestone stumped thanks to a canny offcutter, the Originals' 135 looked like a competitive score.
Invincibles' false start
Cross struck twice in two balls during her first set of five, having Alice Capsey caught behind while lap-sweeping and crashing one into the top of Grace Gibbs' stumps. Fran Wilson calmly flicked her hat-trick ball down to fine leg for four, but fell shortly after as she chipped a catch to Kaur at mid-off to give Laura Jackson a wicket with her first ball.
Cross' third wicket, Georgia Adams plinking a pull to short midwicket, left the Invincibles four down inside 32 balls and reeling, but van Niekerk cut and pulled hard against the spin, trying to marshal the strike in partnership with Kapp and getting a life on 30 when Kaur put her down at mid-off.
Captain fantastic
Ecclestone held the key as one of the world's premier death bowlers, and had conceded only three runs off the first 11 balls of her allocation before Kapp thumped her over long-on for six. Her dismissal off the next ball, stumped down the leg side with lightning hands by Threlkeld, but when Mignon du Preez shelled a chance in the deep off van Niekerk with 24 needed off 15, the momentum shifted once more.
Van Niekerk back-foot punched Hartley for four more to take the equation to 16 off 10 balls before Ecclestone's final set of five, and when Villiers slapped her second legal ball over long-on, the required rate was a run a ball. With six to win off the last over, Villiers backed away and squeezed Cross' yorker away behind square on the off side, before van Niekerk's thick outside edge sealed the deal with two balls to spare.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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