The beauty of Sophia Dunkley's most famous achievement to date lies in the fact she never saw it coming.

Dunkley, a batting allrounder of exceptional talent and maturity, became the first Black woman to play a Test for England when she lined up against India in Bristol in June. As a powerful hitter, legspin bowling option and excellent fielder, she took a big step towards re-establishing herself in the England side. Race hadn't entered her thinking in the build-up and it wasn't until after she received her cap that she fully appreciated the broader significance of the occasion.

Ebony Rainford-Brent had been the first Black woman to play cricket for England when she made her ODI debut in 2007. She earned 22 one-day caps and seven in T20Is but never played a Test before her last international appearance more than a decade ago. She remains the only other Black woman to have represented England.

"It was an incredibly special day, to make my Test match debut," Dunkley tells ESPNcricinfo. "In the women's game Test matches don't come around very often so it made it even more special.

"Then to hear that I was the first Black woman to play a Test for England was incredible. It was something that didn't cross my mind initially. It's not until you sit back and look over it that you realise what an achievement it was - an incredibly special time and it was a dream to make my Test match debut."

Dunkley had already played 15 T20Is prior to her Test appearance, including her international debut at the 2018 T20 World Cup aged 20. She spent 18 months out of the side but, after featuring at the tail end of West Indies' tour to England last year and playing three more T20s on the winter tour to New Zealand, Dunkley was back, having forced her credentials through sheer weight of runs in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

Now she looks forward to a day when a player's race isn't noted at all, when all Black cricketers can enjoy the same "nothing but positive" experiences of the sport that she has.

"It's rapidly changing and hopefully in the future, in a few years, it won't be, 'the second Black person to do this', it'll just be, 'so-and-so has made their debut for England'," Dunkley says.

Dunkley's maiden Test appearance sparked a breakout summer in which she set about securing her place in England's middle order and finished as the third-highest run-scorer in the Hundred, with 244 runs at a strike rate of 141.86 for Southern Brave.

Dunkley says she was always accepted at school - she attended Mill Hill School in North London on a sports scholarship - and in teams she played in. But she recognises that there are many whose experiences have been very different.

"Girls on the [ACE] academy, they're looking up to her and seeing what is possible. That visibility is a game-changer"
Ebony Rainford-Brent

A host of Black players have spoken out about discrimination in cricket, including Michael Carberry who last year claimed that cricket was "rife with racism" shortly before Rainford-Brent and Michael Holding gave powerful and heartbreaking accounts of their battles with racism in and beyond the sport.

"I didn't feel excluded or like I didn't fit in, I felt pretty comfortable within all the environments that I've been in," Dunkley says. "It wasn't really until I made my T20 debut at the World Cup that someone said, 'you're the second Black woman to play T20 cricket for England'.

"I didn't even have any clue. Since then it kind of dawned on me how much of a big thing this is. It's only been really the last two or three years that I've thought about it and it's something that I want to help change and bring positivity to. Hopefully my positive experiences help with that, to show that not everyone can feel excluded from those kinds of environments."

Dunkley believes a key to increasing inclusion and diversity is creating a sense of belonging, and that role models such as herself have a part to play.

"People feel like they don't belong in a certain environment because it's kind of dominated by certain parts of society," Dunkley says. "I suppose only having two Black females play for England, it doesn't give you a wide range of role models to look up to.

"Hopefully the more the game develops... more role models are going to come along and people feel like they're going to belong more and are a part of a group."

Dunkley points to the African Caribbean Engagement (ACE) programme as a source of rapid, positive change. ACE, run by Rainford-Brent, aims to address a 75% decline in participation among Black cricketers since 1995 by providing grassroots opportunities, talent pathways and elite programmes for young Black players while developing a diverse coaching and volunteer scheme.

Dunkley is an ambassador and while Rainford-Brent has encouraged her to be involved where she can, her advice was to simply be a role model through her cricket - like her Test debut, which she described as "massive".

"It's massive because there's two sides to it," Rainford-Brent says. "She is a young kid just chasing her dream, and what's really interesting about Dunks is she's not aware, or wasn't prior to this milestone, of colour so much, she was just fulfilling her potential.

"Dovetail that with Test match cricket, which as we know in women's cricket, it's still the pinnacle of the game. For there to not have been a Black Test player in the female game up to that point is kind of crazy.

"I'm just proud for her as an individual, chasing her dreams and the beauty that she wasn't as aware of what the significance was about colour, that's kind of what you want, is kids just to chase their dream.

"But it's a real breakdown of the pinnacle of the game in terms of Test cricket and the fact that a Black female has broken on to the stage and done it in such a powerful way, the way she went about her business, the way she changed it.

"She inspires so many kids. Our young girls who are on the academy, they're looking up to her and seeing what is possible. That visibility which is now there is a game-changer. It's game-changing for her, it's game-changing for the community. It just says that there's doors now that have all been blown open, that it is really possible.

"What I hope is more kids actually go through the experience she does, which is less about colour and more just about purely chasing your dream."

For someone who only recently turned 23 and who is still finding her way at the elite level, does being a role model weigh heavily?

"It doesn't take very much out of my day to try and speak positively about it and to try and make a little bit of a difference," Dunkley says. "I enjoy speaking about it and hopefully making a positive change, so it's all for the greater good, I suppose - it really isn't much for me to do."

Heather Knight, the England captain, sees Dunkley as potentially filling a void within the limited-overs sides as an accomplished finisher. Her power, poise and shot selection suit the role and, more than once over the summer, Dunkley was called upon to lift England out of trouble.

She followed an unbeaten 74 in the Test with a match-winning 73 not out in only her second ODI, also against India, at Taunton. She then hit the winning runs as England sealed a 2-1 victory in their T20I series against New Zealand, and struck 33 off just 25 balls as England emphatically beat the same opponents in their final ODI. She won the Cricket Writers' Club Women's Cricket Award and was shortlisted for the PCA Women's Player of the Year Award.

"Dunks has put a lot of hard work into her mentality and the skill side of her game in the last year or so and I've been hugely impressed with her maturity and how she's gone about things," Knight says.

"It's been a huge summer for her, and I forget she's only got so few caps. She won that game for us down at Taunton, played a really mature innings. She's young, she's bound to have bumps along the road but the signs are really good.

"It's been a spot that we haven't quite nailed in previous years so if we can keep investing in Dunks, she keeps improving and keeps putting in the sort of performances that she has done and keeps working on her composure and being that finisher role, yes there's really good signs."

Dunkley says the time she spent out of the England side was crucial to reinventing her mental approach, focusing on match situations rather than selection. By the time she was recalled to England's squad for the series with West Indies, Dunkley says she was in a better place mentally and technically.

While she impressed in training however, Dunkley still had to wait until the final two fixtures for an opportunity, scoring a duck in the first and 3 not out in a rain-reduced game. She wasn't required to bat in the first T20I in New Zealand then made nought not out and 26 off 33 in next two, all the while building up to the home season, ahead of which she was awarded an England central contract.

"You always have to have a little bit of hope and I was quite positive that I could turn it around," Dunkley says. "But it is hard in those moments. You do obviously have quite a lot of doubt and it's hard because the batting line-up in this team is world-class so it really takes a lot to break into that and to get a chance.

"You always have that on your mind but I just kept going and you do have to have an element of resilience, just to keep fighting and working hard and know what your goals are.

"Getting back into that team to play West Indies in Derby was a massive achievement for me because it came after that year-and-a-half out of the team and that felt like a big stepping stone. I was so pleased that I got myself back into the side and since then it just gave me a confidence to keep going."

From a player making her way at the highest level to someone just wanting to get started, Dunkley has some advice.

"Cricket is a great game, it's exciting, it's fun but it offers so much more than just playing," she says. "It's the people that you meet, the experiences you have and where you get to travel, all those different kinds of things.

"If you're looking to play cricket and you want to get involved, I'd 100 percent encourage you, because you just don't know how it's going to change your life. It's been nothing but positive for me and I hope a lot of other young boys and girls have the same experience and see how much it can change your life for the better."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo