The third edition of the Kia Super League reaches its conclusion on Monday at Hove, and the surprise finalists Loughborough Lightning are eager to prove they have every right to be there.The Midlands-based team lost their star player Ellyse Perry just weeks before this year’s tournament was due to start – the Australian electing to stay at home to be near family – and, as a result, Loughborough were written off by most commentators.The side stormed through the group stages, though, winning seven of their 10 games and finishing top of the table. It means Lightning have automatically qualified for the final, in which they will meet the winner of the morning semi‑final: either the reigning champions Western Storm or last year’s third-placed side Surrey Stars.“It’s huge,” the Lightning wicketkeeper Amy Jones said of her side’s automatic qualification. “You get a chance to watch the first game, take any learning from that. You’re one step ahead before you get going and you’re fresher as well. We’re very happy to be in that position. Last year we didn’t make it through to Finals Day, so expectations of us were low. We’ve surprised a few people.”
It appears the shake-up in personnel at Lightning this season, with the former Scotland and Leicestershire player Rob Taylor taking the helm as coach, has paid dividends for a side who struggled to compete in last year’s tournament. “Rob’s been brilliant,” Jones said. “He lets you go out and play with freedom, emphasises that he’s backing us to play our shots. There’ll be no judgment if things don’t come off. It allows people to go out and play some exciting cricket, which I think we’ve shown.”The acquisition from Yorkshire Diamonds of the New Zealand all-rounder Sophie Devine, who has shone with 264 runs and 16 wickets, has been another important strategic move. “She’s a real character, she’s got loads of energy,” Jones said. “And she can hit the ball further than anyone.”
Equally impressive have been the performances of the 20-year-old Kirstie Gordon who, along with Devine, is sitting atop the list of leading tournament wicket-takers. The left-arm spinner, who hails from Scotland but now plays all her cricket south of the border, may well have caught the eye of the England selectors.“As a team normally you rely on your overseas and your England players, but to have that depth in our squad has been invaluable. You can’t just do it with a few players,” Jones said.
Lightning’s biggest competition for the title is likely to come from Western Storm, who beat Southern Vipers in the final last year, but they will be without leading run-scorer Smriti Mandhana after she returned to India last week for a national training camp. Despite the absence of the Indian crowd favourite, the England and Wales Cricket Board will be hoping for a good turnout following on from last year’s Finals Day at the same ground, which was watched by a record 3,500 spectators.From a personal perspective Jones, who narrowly missed out on selection for England in last year’s World Cup squad, has a point to prove before the Women’s World Twenty20 in November. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to show what I can do with the bat. If you can perform in a final, it says a lot about you. Hopefully I can get some runs and put my name in the hat.”If she can do so, her side might just bring off the biggest coup of the season and ensure a new team are crowned Super League champions.