Blaze 245 (Kelly 54, Harvey 3-32, Cleary 3-43) beat Western Storm 239 for 7 (Griffiths 67) by six runs
She made up for losing the toss by top-scoring with 54, while Michaela Kirk contributed 40 and Sophie Munro and Teresa Graves posted 41 apiece in adding 74 for the seventh wicket as Blaze recovered from 149 for 6 in the 33rd over to raise 245.
Without England bowlers Lauren Filer and Dani Gibson, who were away on Ashes duty, Storm put their trust in a previously untested new ball pairing of Academy product Mollie Robbins and Cleary, the Western Australia right armer signed just 48 hours earlier to bolster a depleted seam attack.
Although wayward and a touch expensive, the inexperienced Robbins engineered an early breakthrough, Sarah Bryce driving loosely to point with the score on 17, while Cleary, in her first competitive outing since February, shed any initial ring rust to have Georgie Boyce held at silly mid-off in a new-ball burst of 1 for 17 from five overs.
Unperturbed by events at the other end, Blaze skipper Kelly set her stall out to bat through, going quietly about the business of accumulating runs, while the more aggressive Kathryn Bryce cashed in whenever she was afforded width, plundering three boundaries to give the innings impetus and help advance the score to 73 for 2 at the end of the powerplay.
Having put on 41 for the third wicket with her captain, Bryce was caught at the wicket for 20 in the act of cutting Chloe Skelton’s off breaks as Storm struck a telling blow. But the visitors continued to hold sway, aided and abetted by a lucky break when Cleary put down a presentable chance at mid-off to gift Kirk a life on 19, much to the chagrin of Skelton.
Kelly combined clever placement and hard running, especially against spin, to keep the scoreboard moving. Her reward was a chanceless 50. Yet just as she was threatening to take the game away from Storm, she came unstuck, top-edging a pull shot and holing out to short fine leg, Harvey terminating a progressive fourth-wicket alliance of 42 in the 26th over.
Having been cruising at 130 for 3, Blaze slumped to 149 for 6 in the face of an incisive spell from Harvey, who claimed three wickets in 15 balls with her leg breaks to fundamentally alter the balance of power. Nadine de Klerk was bowled and fellow South African Kirk pinned lbw in the act of sweeping as the middle order miss-fired.
Storm sensed an opportunity to shut the innings down and there followed eight overs in which Blaze failed to register a single boundary as Graves and Munro battled to repair the damage. Demonstrating sound temperament and determination, the seventh-wicket pair eventually prevailed as a see-saw innings swayed back in the visitors’ favour.
These two both contributed 41 from 50 balls to put the innings back on track before falling to the returning Cleary, who proved particularly effective at the death alongside Alex Griffiths, who removed Ella Claridge and Lucy Higham to finish with 2 for 25 from 5.5 overs.
Having learned from the first innings, Griffiths and Corney embraced a low-risk strategy to provide Storm’s reply with solid foundations, the openers proving adept at putting the bad ball away while scoring predominantly in singles to post 69 in 17.4 overs.
Their partnership was broken in bizarre fashion, Griffiths striking the ball back down the track and bowler Kelly diverting it onto the stumps with the unfortunate Corney out of her ground. Run out for 29 from 40 balls, Corney had nevertheless helped set things up, heading back to the dressing room with Storm requiring a further 177 runs at 5.47 an over.
But Blaze do not boast an unbeaten record in this format without good reason, and the ubiquitous Kelly further undermined the chase when bowling the influential Luff for eight with the score on 91 in the 24th over.
Storm were heavily dependent upon Griffiths and new batter Fran Wilson, who were aware of the need to accelerate from 99 for 2 at the halfway stage. Sure enough, Wilson quickly caressed three off-side boundaries at the expense of Kathryn Bryce and Kelly to set the scoreboard moving again, and Griffiths went to her first 50 of the summer via 97 balls as the third-wicket pair injected crucial momentum into their batting.
Griffiths had advanced to 67 from 118 balls with eight fours and the partnership was worth 59 when the Welsh all-rounder chanced her arm once too often and holed out to Kirk in the deep off the bowling of Graves with the score on 150 in the 33rd over. Hesitation then proved fatal for Niamh Holland, run out for eight, as Blaze brought further pressure to bear on the home side.
Wilson moved to within seven runs of a half-century before attempting to hook Graves and top-edging a catch behind, at which point Storm were 176-5, still 70 short of victory with the cream of their batting back in the pavilion.
Storm refused to give in, Nat Wraith striking 20 before falling to Graves and Sophia Smale making a spirited 24 as the home side took it to the very last over.