Oval Invincibles face fight of their lives in bid to stop Southern Brave
Confidence will flow from Invincibles' eliminator win but Brave look formidable opponents
In less than 24 hours between their stirring performance to eliminate Birmingham Phoenix and the final with Southern Brave, Oval Invincibles will need to have found some amazing powers of re-focus or chosen to simply ride a wave of adrenaline all the way to Lord's.
Whether the latter can sustain them for the duration of a daunting assignment against a side beaten only once in eight matches is uncertain. Whichever approach Invincibles take, the difficulty of backing up a day after winning a match that appeared beyond their grasp should not be underestimated. That said, T20 Blast sides have been doing something similar on the same day for a while now. Neverthelss, Invincibles' tougher path gives Brave, who already looked the stronger side - certainly with the bat - even more reason to go into the title decider fresh and firing.
Invincibles' 20-run victory over Phoenix in Friday's eliminator was built on a stellar afternoon in the field, spearheaded by a tournament-best 4 for 10 from 19 balls by the leading wicket-taker in the women's competition, Tash Farrant, who also took a highlights-reel catch to pre-empt a Phoenix collapse of six wickets for 13 runs. Marizanne Kapp had rescued a flailing Invincibles innings with a run-a-ball 37 before claiming three wickets in support of Farrant. If they can stay sharp and extract a stronger performance from their more-than-capable but yet-to-fire batting line-up, you never know what can happen. Just ask Phoenix... but maybe wait until next season.
It seems a long time since Kapp opened the inaugural season of the Hundred, bowling a leg-side wide in Invincibles' win over Manchester Originals on July 21, sealed with an unbeaten 56 from captain Dane van Niekerk with two balls to spare which, in hindsight, signalled their fighting instinct. In that time, Southern Brave have been the tournament pace-setters with an enviable top order in Danni Wyatt, the now-departed Smriti Mandhana and Sophia Dunkley - not to mention Stafanie Taylor at No. 4. It will take all the fight Invincibles have to beat them.
In the spotlight
Gaby Lewis, the 20-year-old Ireland international has come into the Brave line-up with huge shoes to fill, drafted as a replacement for Mandhana, who forged a formidable opening partnership with Wyatt before flying home to India ahead of their tour to Australia. Lewis had an all-too-brief first outing when she managed 9 off 14 deliveries against Invincibles last Monday, chipping to mid-off when she failed to commit fully to her shot. If she can trust her gut and find her flow, she can help set Brave off to the sort of strong start to which they've become accustomed under Mandhana and Wyatt.
Fran Wilson reached double-figures for just the third time in eight innings against Phoenix, where she had just looked like getting going with 21 off 17 deliveries when she fell to a Kirstie Gordon return catch. Her strike rate of 94.31 puts her in the bottom third of Invincibles batters and her team can ask more of their vastly experienced No. 3.
Brave have had a settled side throughout the season. Bringing Lewis in for Mandhana aside, their only other change has been to swap Tara Norris for Charlotte Taylor, the offspinner who has proven a match-winner for Southern Vipers on more than one occasion, including last year's Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy. But, with Charlotte Taylor having claimed just one wicket from the three matches she played and with Stafanie Taylor and Fi Morris able to complement the legspin of Amanda-Jade Wellington - Brave's leading wicket-taker - it's hard to see them plumping for another spin option. Expect to see them keep the same side which defeated Invincibles in their last group game.
Southern Brave: (possible) 1 Gaby Lewis, 2 Danni Wyatt, 3 Sophia Dunkley, 4 Stafanie Taylor, 5 Maia Bouchier, 6 Amanda-Jade Wellington, 7 Anya Shrubsole (capt), 8 Fi Morris, 9 Tara Norris, 10 Carla Rudd (wk), 11 Lauren Bell
Oval Invincibles were unchanged between their defeat to Brave and win over Phoenix. Provided everyone pulls up fit from their exertions in the eliminator - bearing in mind Kapp has missed a chunk of Invincibles' campaign through injury, although she looked in fine form on Friday - they could well opt to keep the same side again.
Oval Invincibles: (possible) 1 Georgia Adams, 2 Dane van Niekerk (capt), 3 Fran Wilson, 4 Marizanne Kapp, 5 Alice Capsey, 6 Mady Villiers, 7 Joanne Gardner, 8 Grace Gibbs, 9 Sarah Bryce (wk), 10 Tash Farrant, 11 Shabnim Ismail.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo