When I interviewed Sophia Dunkley 4 weeks ago, she said that she was keen to use this year’s Kia Super League to help stake her claim on an England place. In her words: “It’s about making a name for myself and getting a bit more noticed.”
Last night, in front of thousands of viewers live on Sky, she got noticed.
With 3 runs needed off the last 3 balls, and with Dunkley on strike to the world-class Anya Shrubsole, the pressure for most of those in the ground was almost unbearable. But Dunkley, cool as a cucumber, drove the ball through the covers for four to win the match for her side, and to take Surrey Stars through to Finals Day.
“Anya’s a world-class bowler, she can frustrate people,” Dunkley told CRICKETher after the match. “Kappie said that she was bowling into the pitch, taking some pace off, so I just tried to sit as deep as I could and hope that it was in my arc. Luckily it was.”
Coming to the crease with 19 runs still required, and with Stars’ Finals Day hopes hanging in the balance, yesterday’s 6-run cameo from Dunkley proved to be a crucial one. Even when her captain was dismissed at the other end with 9 runs still required she was able to regroup, running several hard singles between the wickets with Marizanne Kapp.
Then came that sweet shot for four and with it, relief.
Amazingly, despite those of us looking on from the sidelines being bags of nerves by that final over, Dunkley’s assessment was that: “Kapp and I were in control.”
And it’s those few words, really, that sum up the way in which Dunkley has approached this competition, and indeed approaches her cricket generally. She isn’t cowed easily. She doesn’t do “down and out”. Back on that very first day at Guildford, coming in at 18-4, it was Dunkley’s half-century which dug Stars out of a hole. Other players might have crumbled. Dunkley has the confidence to take on the world’s best bowlers, even in a sticky situation.
Captain Nat Sciver, reflecting on that innings at Guildford as well as yesterday’s performance, was full of praise for the 20-year-old: “It is hard in a T20 competition when you are batting down the order at 5 and 6 – you might not get that many balls in – but she has done brilliantly the times she has been in,” she said.
It wasn’t even Dunkley’s most crucial contribution of the day. That had come earlier in the match, when her 4 overs of leg-spin, bowled at an economy rate of 5.25, had proven critical in restricting Western Storm to a total that Stars could (just about) chase down.
Dunkley should, of course, have had the wicket of Heather Knight to her name – the England captain was dropped twice off her bowling – but even with nothing in the wickets column, the fact that Sciver trusted her to bowl a full complement of overs for the first time in the competition showed how vital her contribution was with the ball yesterday.
“She was brilliant,” said Sciver. “I wanted to keep the spin on at one end because the batters were finding it so difficult against them.”
The third edition of the Super League is not over yet, and Finals Day might well provide yet more opportunities for Sophia Dunkley, who lest we forget top-scored for Stars in last year’s semi-final.
But, whatever happens, she’s already stamped her mark firmly all over a competition that is, after all, designed as a stage for our best and brightest young talent.