White Ferns star Suzie Bates has marked her return to the Super Smash in style.
The Otago Sparks captain, who missed all of the last domestic season due to a shoulder injury, top-scored with a half century as her side opened their Twenty20 campaign with a thrilling eight-run win over the Central Hinds in Dunedin on Sunday.
Bates' 64 off 52 balls proved crucial for the hosts at University of Otago Oval, who then also had leg-spinner Sophie Oldershaw and pacer Hayley Jensen to thank for their big roles with the ball, as Central fell just short in their pursuit of 135.
Seemingly out of it at 87-5 going into the last five overs, the Hinds in the end had No 7 Georgia Atkinson top-score with 37 off 24 in a late cameo of flicks and reverse shots which almost saw the visitors snatch it, before the 21-year-old was one of three victims in the penultimate over bowled by Jensen (4-20 off four, including 17 dots).
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That over from the right-arm quick turned the match, with the Hinds' equation going from 15 off 12 with five wickets in hand to 13 off six with two in hand.
And Kate Ebrahim then made no mistake in closing it out, bowling full and straight, then with nine off two needed, collecting back-to-back wickets, including knocking the off-stump out of the ground final ball, to wrap up the tense finish.
Central's chase had started well with a 46-run opening stand between captain Jess Watkin (32 off 24) and Natalie Dodd (9 off 19), but the visitors suffered a 3-1 capitulation in the space of seven balls, triggered by an awful runout mix-up which had Dodd the casualty, just centimetres in front of the skipper mid-pitch.
Oldershaw (3-16 off four) then struck twice in the space of two deliveries with her drifting googlies, and next over Watkin slapped a short ball from Jensen to Bates at cover and the chase looked like being too stiff a task.
Bella James will breathe a big sigh of relief after her drops of Watkin and Atkinson in the end didn't prove fatal, with Atkinson's dangerous stay soon after ended at mid-on by Bates off Jensen.
Earlier, after winning the toss, the Hinds bowlers began well, their seamers finding plenty of moment in the air and their spinners proving tricky to get away, in conjunction with a slow outfield.
But Bates showed all of her class in hitting round the wicket in a knock featuring six fours, while veteran Katey Martin (29 off 33) struggled with her timing.
Bates brought up her 50 off 40 balls, but her 72-run second-wicket stand with Martin was broken in the next over when the Hinds upped their game in the park and Emily Cunningham's good work in the deep had Mikaela Greig throw down the stumps at the bowler's end as a dive saw Martin caught short after being sent back.
The 100 came up with 28 balls left, but when Bates fell in the 17th over, dancing down and skying a caught and bowled to Watkin – the pick of the bowlers with 2-22 off four – the hosts couldn't muster a big finish.
T20 Super Smash – week one
At University of Otago Oval, Dunedin: Otago Sparks 134-6 (Suzie Bates 64 off 52, Katey Martin 29 off 33; Jess Watkin 2-22 off 4) beat Central Hinds (Georgia Atkinson 37 off 24, Jess Watkin 32 off 24; Hayley Jensen 4-20 off 4, Sophie Oldershaw 3-16 off 4, Kate Ebrahim 2-26 off 4) by 8 runs.
Batting MVP: Suzie Bates (Sparks)
Bowling MVP: Hayley Jensen (Sparks)
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