Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo
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England 273 for 8 (Sciver-Brunt 120, Bouchier 92) beat Sri Lanka 112 (Perera 32, Dean 5-31) by 161 runs
Ever ask yourself: "What am I doing here?" Cricket fans - at least those who take our privileged position of being able to watch the game regularly for granted - surely do. Especially sitting through interminable rain delays, mopping-up, pitch inspections… repeat. Then you witness another fairytale and realise, this is what I'm doing here.
This time, it was Nat Sciver-Brunt's turn. Playing her 100th ODI and captaining the side after Heather Knight was forced to return to the team hotel feeling unwell, she plundered 120 off 74 balls, including a 66-ball century - which was the fastest by an England Women's player in ODIs - to lead her side to a thumping 161-run victory over Sri Lanka in the third and final match in Leicester for a 2-0 series win.
Maia Bouchier was far more than just a bit-part character with her blistering 95 from 65 balls as the pair rescued their side from 18 for 2 with a 193-run partnership for the third wicket. Between them they set Sri Lanka a daunting target of 274 in a match reduced to 31 overs a side, after rain delayed the start by more than three hours (along with mopping-up efforts and pitch inspections). Then Charlie Dean appeared, taking a maiden international five-wicket haul to put the ending beyond doubt.
This entire tour by Sri Lanka has produced some gripping narratives. The visitors' 2-1 upset in the T20I series, including their first victories in the format against England - ranked six places higher - was built on captain Chamari Athapaththu's stellar year with the bat and exposed the hosts' weakness against spin. Then followed the dream ODI debuts of young seamers Mahika Gaur and Lauren Filer in the opening match as the hosts turned things around before taking a stranglehold of the second fixture which was ultimately washed out.
Yes, this victory also came against a side ranked considerably lower than England in the 50-over format but that takes nothing away from the performance of Sciver-Brunt.
It was less than a week ago that Sciver-Brunt returned to the England side, having been rested for the T20I series after being England's Player of the Women's Ashes, although she helped Blaze to victory over Central Sparks with an unbeaten 66 in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy during that time. Her comeback match came in a seven-wicket win in Durham, a year after she left an England training camp in the same city to take an extended mental health break.
Just as Ben Stokes did with England Men, Sciver-Brunt has led by example in terms of enabling players to speak up when they need to care for their mental wellbeing. And, just as Stokes did with his 182 in the third ODI against New Zealand the previous day, Sciver-Brunt again highlighted her indispensability to any side she is part of, taking charge of the storyline after a fraught start when the visitors won the toss and opted to bowl under heavy skies.
Tammy Beaumont survived on 1 when she struck Udeshika Prabodhani hard but straight to Harshitha Smarawickrama, who fumbled the chance at deep midwicket. Achini Kulasuriya then beat Beaumont's outside edge with an excellent ball which also just missed off stump, then tempted Beaumont to advance on the next ball, only to be caught by Hasini Perera at slip.
Bouchier, opening alongside Beaumont with Emma Lamb out with a back spasm, despatched Prabodhani over deep midwicket for six next over. Prabodhani responded by castling Alice Capsey, who managed just 6 batting in Knight's place at No. 3, and England were struggling inside the six-over Powerplay which they ended at 28 for 2.
But by the 10-over mark that had become 72 for 2, thanks in no small part to Sciver-Brunt, who helped herself to 15 of the 16 runs conceded by Inoka Ranaweera in her first over, her back-foot drive through cover followed by a thunderous pull to the rope at deep midwicket and a monstrous six into the stands beyond long-off.
Bouchier, who made her ODI debut in Durham having played 22 T20Is, kept pace beautifully, launching a free hit of Hansima Karunaratne following a no-ball for height, over the fence with disdain at cow corner for her second maximum. She brought up her maiden 50-over fifty with the second of three fours in a row as she peppered the leg side off Oshadi Ranasinghe.
Sciver brought up her half-century in just 32 balls with four off Ranaweera and she raised England's 150 with a nonchalant scoop to the fine leg boundary off Kavisha Dilhari, one of three fours conceded by the young off-spinner in her first over as the England batters continued picking them off at will.
Prabodhani did her best to end their union just before they reached the 200-mark in the 23rd over with one that beat Sciver-Brunt's back-foot swipe and somehow evaded off stump. Sciver-Brunt brought up her century moments later with a single off Kulasuriya, but then Dilhari pinned Bouchier lbw to end a brilliant innings.
Sciver-Brunt didn't flinch, peeling off three fours from the same Dilhari over and another off Ranaweera through extra cover, but she perished next ball, picking out long-off.
That brought debutant Bess Heath to the crease and she managed 21 off 14 balls, including a six over deep midwicket off Kulasuriya and a reverse-sweep for four off Dilhari, who then ended Heath's cameo as she holed out to Karunaratne.
Gaur and Filer again combined to make inroads on the Sri Lanka line-up and when off-spinner Dean trapped Athapaththu lbw for just 12 in the ninth over, Sri Lanka were in deep trouble at 46 for 4.
Dean, called upon to lead the spin-bowling attack alongside Sarah Glenn with Sophie Ecclestone sidelined initially through workload management but now because of a shoulder injury, then produced the epilogue, snaring three wickets in five balls to all but close the book on the match. Her return catch to remove Karuanaratne was followed by Perera, Sri Lanka's top-scorer with 32, caught behind and then an excellent delivery that turned between bat and pad and crashed into Dilhari's off stump. Her fifth wicket came as Prabodhani dragged on and Filer sealed victory with her third, rearranging Kulasuriya's stumps to end her breakout season on a high.
So ended England Women's international summer, with progress made, talent unearthed, lessons learned and work still to do, all the while leaving that empty feeling that you get at the end of a real page-turner, because we won't see the results for months to come. That's what we're doing here.
Nat Sciver-Brunt targets India bowling comeback after stellar batting form
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S Lanka (W) Innings
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