Sophia Dunkley produced the most significant performance of her England career, soaking up the pressure after coming in at 96-4 to deliver 67 critical runs and put the match well beyond Bangladesh’s limited batting.
England then bowled Bangladesh out for 134 to win by exactly 100 runs, bumping their Net Run Rate up sufficiently to ensure that whatever happened in the other match between South Africa and India, England finished the group stages in 3rd place, avoiding Australia and setting up a repeat of their 2017 semi-final against South Africa.
Batting at the bottom of the middle-order is so often the hardest gig in the game. If you come in at all, it is either with only a few overs left with no chance to “build” an innings, or with your team in horrendous trouble, knowing you have to guard your wicket all the more carefully as you try to shepherd the tail.
Put like that, it is actually quite odd that it’s a job England seem to invariably give to their most junior batter, but it is what they seem to do. (And no doubt will do to Alice Capsey if she comes into the T20 team next summer… though they shouldn’t!)
“Junior” is relative of course – Dunkley has over 40 caps now, across all 3 formats, so she’s no newbie, and she’s been consistent in this World Cup – she’s got starts every time she’s come to the crease, but hasn’t been able to convert that into a bigger score until today.
The impression I have is that, for whatever reasons, Dunkley has been limiting her game when pulling on an England shirt in this format. It is really interesting that the commentators working on this World Cup have never seen Dunkley play domestic 50-over cricket, so they see her primarily as a paddle-sweeper.
But when we looked back at Raf’s notes from one of her big innings for Stars a couple of years ago (her 90-odd at Beckenham v Sunrisers), it was full of cuts and pulls and drives; and though she started sweeping here, as she grew in confidence the drives started to come out of the box, and they were coming out of the middle of the bat too.
That’s the Sophia Dunkley England need going forwards; and it was the reason England were in a position to finish strongly today.
If they were realistic, Bangladesh’s aim at this World Cup would have been to win a game and hopefully not finish last. They’ve done that, and they should be proud of what they’ve achieved. They are a good bowling side, but their batting is still stuck in the amateur era and it was quickly apparent that they weren’t going to chase 234 – England had the game won at the break, and it was just a question of whether England could take the wickets quickly enough to get the Net Run Rate advantage they’d need to avoid Australia if India beat South Africa.
England’s pace attack has been blunted this World Cup and they’ve struggled to take wickets, while continuing to believe they’ve got the selections right. Freya Davies came in today, but it was made clear that Anya Shrubsole was only being rested, and Davies’ place in the pecking order was established as Nat Sciver opened with Katherine Brunt.
But neither Brunt not Sciver could make the breakthrough, and nor could Kate Cross, with Davies finally being thrown the ball in the 24th over. Davies ended up bowling 10 overs after Brunt went off with a “tight back”, and taking 2-36 – a tidy performance in a spinner’s game (Ecclestone, Dean and Knight taking 7 of the 9 wickets to fall to bowlers), but probably not one that is going to stop Shrubsole coming back for the semi-final.
Because a semi-final is where England are now headed, to play South Africa who handed them one of the 3 losses they started off this tournament with. Do they deserve to be in the semis? The way things have turned out (at time of writing this sentence, South Africa have literally just hit the winning run off the last ball against India) is tough on India; but frankly it is West Indies who have lucked out with that crucial point from a washed-out match they would probably have lost against South Africa. England put themselves in a position where they effectively faced down 4 quarter-finals in a row, and they fought through them tooth-and-nail and came out the other side. It wasn’t pretty, but ultimately it was pretty effective. The table doesn’t lie – they pulled it off, and they deserve it.