Southern Brave 112 for 2 (Mandhana 61*) beat Welsh Fire 110 for 7 (Matthews 33) by eight wickets
Southern Brave produced a clinical all-round display to pick up a second consecutive victory of the tournament, their pursuit of Welsh Fire's modest target overseen by an unbeaten 61 from India opener Smriti Mandhana.
Cardiff's opener in the Hundred came with the threat of rain but the sun was shining by the time Anya Shrubsole's batters had completed the job with 16 balls to spare. Shrubsole won the toss and inserted the home side under glowering skies and then led the way in harness with 20-year-old Lauren Bell, who once again impressed in claiming the wickets of Fire's two international-class batters, Hayley Matthews and Sarah Taylor.
Fire struggled to get going, despite Matthews peeling off six boundaries - including an eye-catching uppercut over mid-off - in making 33 from 20, and were going at less than a run a ball for most of the innings. Georgia Redmayne attempted to dig in and see the innings through but managed just one four during her 15 from 20 before she became the second run-out of an impressive Brave display in the field.
Georgia Hennessy was the only other batter to reach double-figures, cuffing and scrapping 23 from 24 as a shower swept through, but Brave walked off the happier at halfway. They were soon ahead of the asking rate, as Fire struggled for either wickets or the required economy, Mandhana taking advantage of being dropped on 26 to complete the formalities in company of Stafanie Taylor.
Brave's game face
Having won from adversity in their opener away to Trent Rockets, Brave pulled out another two points on the road thanks to a much more dominant display. Where they had been forced to drag themselves up from the depths of 57 for 5 at Trent Bridge, here they followed up another suffocating display with the ball - they have twice conceded just 110 from 100 - by flexing some of the top-order muscle that makes them one of the favourites for this competition.
Although Danni Wyatt fell relatively cheaply, thanks to some trademark excellence from Sarah Taylor in taking a glove down the leg side, and Sophia Dunkley miscued a full toss, Mandhana took up the cudgels to drive Brave's chase with a 35-ball fifty. Mandhana ticked up through the gears and eventually finished the match with her third six. Charlotte Edwards, the coach, clearly has her side well drilled and with their first home match coming up later this week, they will be looking to get on a roll.
Clear as a Bell
Fire had made a solid-if-unspectacular start to their innings, 50 for 2 after 45 balls and with Matthews beginning to purr after thrashing the legspin of Amanda-Jade Wellington for a pair of imperious, back-to-back boundaries - one off the back foot, one off the front. With the slow bowlers looking vulnerable, Shrubsole went back to her tall, willowy spearhead, Bell.
Her initial spell had seen more than a couple of inswingers disappear down leg, but after starting with a slower delivery to the set Matthews, which was pushed for a single, Bell went back to what she later described as her "best ball". Full and curling in, Matthews flashed a drive but only succeeded in sending a thick edge to backward point. Better was to come, as Bell repeated the mantra at the top of her mark and then defeated the new batter, Sarah Taylor, with a booming indipper. Bell's best ball was good enough to deal with two of the very best.
Cardiff does not have a reputation for aiding spin, not least because of the short, straight boundaries that can be a target in limited-overs cricket - but it did not seem as if the memo had made it through to either side before this game. Brave brought in Charlotte Taylor and her non-turning offbreaks, but she ended up being her side's most expensive bowler, going for 19 from 10 - although she did also buy the wicket of Sophie Luff, who was stumped after taking six runs off the previous two deliveries.
As the second innings began, however, Fire said "hold my beer". Bryony Smith's offbreaks had gone relatively well when she opened the bowling in their opener at Headingley, but she was immediately given the charge by Wyatt, who boshed a brace of fours through the covers in the first five. Smith was then brought back inside the Powerplay from the River End and saw Mandhana, who up to that point had 4 from 5, advance out to dump her into the stands; 10 metres more and it would have been in the Taff.
Mandhana doubtless knows plenty about playing spin bowling and later in the chase she targeted Fire's leggie, Nicole Harvey. Mandhana drove her second ball from Harvey down the ground, and although she should have been caught in the same set - Alex Griffiths missing a straightforward chance at deep midwicket - another straight six and swept four, meant the opener took 18 runs from eight Harvey deliveries, as Brave coasted towards their target.
Curiously, for the second match running, left-arm seamer Katie George, who has been capped by England but spent her winter recovering from a back stress fracture, did not bowl while batting down at No. 9. Whatever the case there, Fire need to work out a more effective strategy for playing on their home patch.