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News

No fast-tracked return for Sophia Dunkley despite regional form, says England assistant coach

Time in middle for South East Stars is best remedy for out-of-favour batter, says Gareth Breese

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
15-May-2024
Sophia Dunkley swings the ball leg side, South East Stars vs Central Sparks, Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, Beckenham, April 27, 2024

Sophia Dunkley has been in flying form for South East Stars after her England omission  •  Surrey CCC/Getty Images

Sophia Dunkley will have to wait in line for a return to international action, according to England Women's assistant coach Gareth Breese, despite an impressive return to form for South East Stars in the opening rounds of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
Dunkley, who is currently leading the tournament run-charts with 293 at 97.66 in five innings, including a century against Northern Diamonds last week, was dropped from the England set-up for the ongoing series against Pakistan after a desperate run of scores on this winter's multi-format tours of India and New Zealand.
In her absence - as well as that of Nat Sciver-Brunt, who is available once again after a minor medical procedure - England's rejigged top-order endured a torrid start to the summer, collapsing to 11 for 4 in the first T20I at Edgbaston, before a strong middle-order fightback, led by the senior pairing of Heather Knight and Amy Jones, set their side up for a comfortable 53-run victory.
Breese, however, insisted that England's incumbents - including Dunkley's nominal replacement Maia Bouchier, the stand-out player of the winter just gone - would be afforded the time and space required to grow into their roles, in much the same way that Dunkley herself will now be left to find her form, away from the spotlight, ahead of the final push towards this winter's T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
"As batters, it's one shot, one mistake and you might be back in a pavilion," Breese said, ahead of Friday's second match in Northampton. "It's not an ideal situation to be 11 for 4, but one thing about the set-up here is that we back the girls. After one blip, we're not just going to make an absolute U-turn on them.
"It was the first game, a few people were a bit rusty, we didn't get off to the start we wanted. Having the experience of Heather and Amy Jones coming in at that stage was brilliant in terms of setting up the recovery. But I'm sure the girls will have learned from seeing the Pakistani attack and will use that experience in a positive frame to go into the next game."
Dunkley, however, remains an integral part of the wider England set-up, as shown by her involvement in a red-ball training session at Loughborough on Tuesday. Breese, who is also her head coach at Welsh Fire, said this was part of a wider effort by the management to "touch base" when it was convenient for those players on the fringes, thereby leaving them more space to find form in their regional set-ups.
"What we don't want to do is bring girls all across the country for three hours, just for a session," he said. "Every time a player leaves us, we try to support them as much as we can when they're fairly close to us, while giving them an opportunity to get some more time in the middle. And it's working exactly how we would want it to work.
"Dunks has been working closely with her batting coach Alex Gidman, and she was in for a session with us yesterday, so she's still in and around the fold. She's gone back to doing what she's done over the years, in terms of to getting herself selected, and that's scoring runs. That's all you can ask when you are out of favour, you let the runs do the talking, and I think she's still in a really good place.
"Any player who's played for a while goes through ups and downs. And if they say they haven't, then you don't know how truthful they are in sharing."
In addition to the forthcoming ODI series against Pakistan, England have three ODIs and five T20Is coming up against New Zealand in June and July in which to finalise their World Cup plans. And while that does not, on the face of it, offer a huge amount of opportunities for out-of-favour players to make their case, Breese insisted that offering continuity to the squad incumbents was not remotely the same thing presenting a closed shop for selection.
"We've seen people that have been selected from just outside our contracted group, and that's what you want," he said. "If you can have competition for places, then you're pushing the girls who are contracted to be better. And that's a really good environment to be in.
"What you don't want is a clear-cut 15, because if it's too easy to select them, you probably haven't got the girls in the right place."
The ultimate difference between the sides in the first T20I came in the bowling, particularly England's three-prong spin attack. Sarah Glenn - back in the team after suffering concussion in New Zealand - led the line with four wickets, while Sophie Ecclestone and Charlie Dean contributed a wicket apiece. All three bowlers are now in the top five of the ICC's T20I rankings, with Ecclestone remaining at the top of the pile - a fact that augurs well with favourable conditions looming in Bangladesh.
As the team's spin coach, however, Breese said he wasn't about to let the players rest on any laurels, describing himself as a bit of a "grumpy dad" when it comes to demanding ever higher standards.
"It's a real credit to the girls for the work they've put in over the last few years, to get the recognition in the standings," he said. "I'm happy with where they are but sometimes, like a bit of a grumpy dad, I keep trying to push them to be better.
"I almost don't try and get flattered by the ratings. I just want to keep improving and then that will happen as a by-product of that. But the three girls complement each other really well, and they also contribute with the bat, which allows you to play all three in the same T20 team.
"But I think all of them can get better. Even though Soph's been top of the rankings, you've seen her grow into one of our best death bowlers. Deano has been a real wicket-taker for us, and Glenny's been stunning since she came in. I've been lucky enough to know her since she was on the academy, and her character is probably her stand-out trait. That reflects in how consistent she is with the ball."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket