Way back in July 2014, I was at Wokingham Cricket Club to watch my beloved Berkshire in the county T20 Cup. The game against Middlesex ought to have been a shoe-in – Heather Knight hit 72 off 60 balls, supported by Corrine Hall (who would go on to captain Hobart Hurricanes in the WBBL) who made 42 off 34, as Berkshire (chasing) made 142-3, which was a lot in them days!
But it wasn’t quite enough – Middlesex had earlier posted 145-6, thanks to a 16-year-old in her first full season of county cricket, who had hit 61 off 52 balls.
Her name: Sophia Dunkley.
Dunkley announced herself as a county cricketer that day; and over the following 6 seasons, she would go on to score over 1,600 runs for Middlesex; but some doubts persisted. She never really settled in the Kia Super League, spending a couple of seasons at Surrey Stars before moving to Lancashire Thunder; and although she made an England debut at the T20 World Cup in 2018, she didn’t get much opportunity to shine, and until this summer she remained on the periphery of England’s radar – one for the future perhaps, but not quite for now.
In the space of a few weeks, Dunkley has officially been awarded a central contract (though in practice she’d effectively had one for several months), made her Test debut, scoring 74* in her only innings, and made her ODI debut, in which she did not bat.
Her performance in the Test was obviously impressive, but the moment she really became an “England player”… as opposed to a “player who’s played for England” occurred on the 4th ball of the 27th over of England’s innings in the 2nd ODI today.
England were actually in a wee bit of trouble – with Tammy Beaumont gone cheaply, they had collapsed slightly and were 125-4. Dunkley and Amy Jones – the last two recognised batters – had their work cut out, with almost 100 still required. Dunkley herself was on 10 off 11 balls, when Deepti Sharma gave her a bit of width outside off stump. Dunkley pounced, like a cat on a mouse, cutting confidently through extra cover for 4 runs.
This was the shot of a player who knew, at last, that she really belonged at this level.
A few overs later she splattered Shikha Pandey for 6 over long too… but that was just the confirmation.
Supported by Katherine Brunt, who more than made amends for what had looked like a potentially disastrous final over with the ball costing 18 runs, she closed out the game, finishing on 73* off 81 balls.
It created a real dilemma for Player of the Match too. Though Dunkley ultimately missed out to Kate Cross, who had earlier taken 5-34, for me Dunkley’s was the key performance – taking as much courage as skill, to stare down the barrel of an Indian attack who were looking in fearsome mood after their early breakthroughs. Jhulan in particular threw everything she had at her, but she battled through – proving herself against one of the greatest bowlers the game has ever known.
Dunks may have been handed her ODI cap last weekend, but she won it today – she’s an England player now… and will be for many years to come.