The last year has been one to savour for Sophia Dunkley. At just 20 years of age, the Surrey Stars all-rounder helped her side claim their first Kia Super League title in August, before she was named in the England senior team for the first time ahead of this month’s World T20.
Mark Robinson’s national squad raised a few eyebrows with only 11 of the 21 players on ECB contracts named in the 15, while there were notable omissions, including World Cup winners Alex Hartley, Laura Marsh and Fran Wilson. Alongside Dunkley, Kirstie Gordon and Linsey Smith were also named in the senior side for the first time.
Ahead of tournament in the West Indies, Dunkley admitted while she had targeted England selection before the start of the Super League season, her inclusion still came as a shock.
She said: “It was a little bit in my mind but not too much. I was quite surprised when I got the call, but extremely happy.
“It’s nice to have people believing in you and it gives you a lot of confidence knowing that they are behind you.”
Dunkley has gained a reputation as being able to provide valuable, quick runs from lower down the order. She produced her top score in the Super League in Surrey’s first match of the campaign against Southern Vipers with 66 from 43 balls, while she has also taken a number of crucial wickets using her leg-spin.
She believes she can transfer her good domestic form on to the international stage.
She said: “I had a clear role in the Surrey team and it is similar to the one which I’ll potentially be playing for England. I think I fit a role quite well.”
Dunkley also featured for Middlesex at county cricket level this year. While recognising the value that county cricket adds, she attributes her readiness for England and the forthcoming tournament largely to her involvement in the Super League.
She explained: “I think county cricket played a part but Super League is a higher standard. There are a lot more international bowlers and our England players play a lot more. There’s more excitement and it feels like the crowd are with you in tight moments – it makes it really exciting to play.
“I’ve settled in [to the England squad] quite easily. I know a lot of the girls, I’ve trained with them quite a few times so it’s not completely new to me. There’s definitely a difference in standard, but it’s something that I’ve just got to keep working hard to keep up with.”
England are now in full training mode and face warm-up games against Australia and India ahead of their crucial group opener against Sri Lanka in St Lucia on November 10th. The tournament starts with New Zealand vs India a day earlier.
Dunkley said: “Everyone’s really, really excited. We’ve had a solid few weeks of training and we’ve worked really hard as well considering that it’s been quite hard to get outdoors back at home.
“Conditions over there are definitely different and we’ve looked at other people’s experiences to see if there’s anything we can do differently. I think conditions will play a bit of a part, but I definitely feel prepared.”
England’s T20 side are currently ranked third behind Australia and New Zealand by the ICC.
Dunkley was clear that the squad aren’t focusing on being identified as one of the favourites going into the tournament, but did admit that the squad would love to emulate the 2009 England team by following up World Cup success with a World T20 win.
She said: “We’re trying to stay in the moment and work on what we need to do and then we’ll see what happens. I think we’re in a good place.
“It would be amazing to a lot of the girls to win a 50-over World Cup and then the World T20 in quick succession. It’s something you could never imagine happening – it’s something you dream of.”
A crucial member of that legendary 2009 side was Ebony Rainford-Brent, England’s first black female cricketer and current Director of Women’s Cricket at Surrey.
Dunkley is the only black player in the current national squad and she admitted that while the lack of black players in English cricket isn’t something she has spent much time thinking about, comparisons of her to Rainford-Brent are something that she appreciates.
“From my experiences, I can’t see anything stopping people from playing. I guess it’s just something that we can try to promote and involve as many people as possible. There might not be a particular reason for it, but hopefully within time it will grow,” she said.
“I’ve worked with Ebony over the last two years at Surrey – she’s such an amazing person. I’m following in her footsteps I guess. It’s not something I’ve set my mind on too much but it is something that I’m proud of.”
Dunkley has split her final year at Loughborough University to allow her to commit to cricket. Looking beyond the World T20, she is focused on taking each experience as it comes having already achieved so much at such a young age.
She said: “I think it’s important for me to just embrace it all, enjoy it and take each step as it comes.
“Turning professional is definitely something on my mind and is definitely what my end goal is. I’d love to be part of the ODI squad for the upcoming series next year and that’s definitely something that I’ll try to work towards.”
This year’s edition of the World T20 is the tournament’s first stand-alone event and the ever-increasing popularity in the women’s game is clear to see.
“It’s definitely on the up and I think this year’s Super League showed how much interest there was in the competition and how exciting it could be,” Dunkley said.
While 2018 could already be considered memorable for Dunkley, glory with England on the international stage would cap off what would be a truly remarkable campaign for one of England’s most exciting prospects.
Featured photograph/Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images