The atmosphere at Chelmsford has occasionally felt a little flat of late, compared to days gone by, but a properly raucous near full-house turned out tonight to watch England take on South Africa, and were treated to a huge England win, driven by a powerful half-century from Sophia Dunkley.
The Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) was an enormous church built by the Emperor Justinian in what was then Constantinople – now Istanbul – in the 6th century. England’s own “Hagia Sophia” might have been built on a Thursday night in Chelmsford in 2022, but it was no less impressive.
(Well… okay… maybe a bit less impressive – we are talking about one of the most imposing buildings of the pre-modern world here, which still stands 1,500 years later (it is now a mosque) but… Dunks’ innings was still pretty good!)
Dunks has been promoted to replace Tammy Beaumont at the top of the order in T20s, with the aim of really putting the “power” in “powerplay”, and at the first time of asking it came off big-time. Beaumont’s Strike Rate opening in T20s has veered all over the place in the last year or so – we’ve seen some big performances, not least her 97 of 79 balls (a Strike Rate of 149) versus New Zealand at this very ground last summer; but we’ve also seen too many poor ones, such as the 3 off 13 balls (a Strike Rate of 27) against the same opponents at Taunton.
Dunkley’s new role is to match Beaumont’s best performances more consistently than Beaumont herself was doing, and a part of that will be to ensure that she is striking at over 100 from the very first over, so she doesn’t end up chewing-through 13 balls for 3. And she did just that, hitting Shabnim Ismail for 9 off the first over to set the tone for England’s chase. She then got down the other end and handed out the same treatment to Masabata Klaas, putting her on 18 off 10 balls at the end of the 2nd over.
Despite Ayabonga Khaka – the pick of the South African attack by about a million miles – pulling things back, taking 2 wickets for 5 from her two powerplay overs, England still finished the powerplay well ahead of where South Africa had been, to set them up for the win.
Dunkley took a few risks – you have to, if you are going to play like that – and eventually perished caught on the boundary, going for another six; but it was proper “entertainment” for the delighted crowd, and the kind of cricket England will need to play if they are to have a shot of beating Australia and winning the Commonwealth Games.
It helped that they weren’t chasing a big total, as South Africa imploded again, with only opener Anneke Bosch and the ever-dependable Laura Wolvaardt reaching double-figures.
Katherine Brunt looks rejuvenated opening the bowling – perhaps released from the pressures by knowing this is her swansong summer? Neither Goodall nor Luus did themselves any favours with the shots they played, but you still have to hit the stumps, and Katherine Brunt did for both of them, to bring up her 100th international wicket in this format.
Issy Wong also sent-down the best couple of overs she’s bowled in an England shirt during the powerplay, keeping it full and sharp – an approach that will be much more effective long-term against the really top batters, than the short plonk she sometimes offers up when she feels she “needs” to make something happen.
With these teams going again in Worcester on Saturday, and only a long travel-day in between, England might be looking to rest some key players, especially with the multi-format series now won. So we could see Capsey perhaps coming in for Knight, and Davies for Brunt. I’d also like to see Kemp given a run out in one of these matches, though perhaps not until the 3rd and final game in Derby.
The opening partnership will no doubt remain the same, and although I’d like to see Capsey batting at 3, Bryony Smith needs another shot there in Worcester. Smith looked nervous and out-of-sorts today, but I have the same confidence in her that I had in Emma Lamb, that she will come good, albeit in quite a different role, which will be to do what she does so regularly in domestic cricket – hit the ball hard, and hopefully finish up with 30 off 20 balls more often than she finishes with 2 off 7.