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News

Sophia Dunkley meets the brief to earn England recall

Batter answers coach's challenge to rediscover her form on domestic circuit

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
14-Jun-2024
Sophia Dunkley has met her England brief to secure a return to the ODI squad for the upcoming home series with New Zealand after losing her place in the top order over the winter against the same opposition.
Naming a 14-strong squad on Friday for three ODIs against the White Ferns starting on June 26, Jon Lewis, England Women's head coach, said Dunkley had done exactly as he'd asked in rediscovering her form and batting rhythm on the domestic circuit upon losing her spot after four T20I and one ODI innings in New Zealand in March and April, where she only reached double-figures once.
Dunkley was added to the 50-over squad for the last two games of England's three-match series with Pakistan last month, but didn't play in either - she was named 12th for the second fixture in Taunton, which was washed out after 6.5 overs.
That followed a run of strong performances for South East Stars in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, where she is the competition's leading run-scorer with 293 runs at 97.66 and a strike rate of 83.00, with a century and a fifty to her name. That competition will resume at the end of June, meanwhile, Dunkley scored two half-centuries last week for Stars in the Charlotte Edwards Cup T20 competition.
"She's worked incredibly hard over the last probably 12 months, nine months maybe, on her batting, on her technique and on how she plays the game and her approach to the game, her mindset, and actually how she's able to be more consistent as a batter whilst maintaining the super strength that she has, that's being able to attack at any point in the game," Lewis said.
"Her strike rate might have dipped a little, but she's actually, from my point of view, earned the right to be back in the squad through weight of runs and really good, solid, consistent performances. Her job now is just to put pressure on all the people that are in possession of their spot and try and force them out. She's doing that, which is great."
That Dunkley has turned her form around at domestic level, away from the glare of international cricket, is an important detail. Last December, ahead of England's multi-format tour to India, Dunkley told ESPNcricinfo of the challenges of playing under the intense spotlight of a home Ashes series. She subsequently missed England's two home white-ball series against Sri Lanka before returning to play the Test and three T20Is in India, where her highest score in five innings was 15.
In five ODI innings since scoring 57 on England's tour of West Indies in December 2022, Dunkley has not passed 13 and, in nine T20I innings since scoring a half-century against Australia last July, she has not passed 32.
"Without being disrespectful to the regional game, she's got more of a chance to think and play under less pressure and less scrutiny than she does when she plays international cricket because every single decision or shot that she makes is scrutinised and by everyone," Lewis said.
"Everyone watches what you do and judges and when you take yourself out of that, the pressure does drop off a little bit and it'll be interesting to see when and if she plays across this series whether or not she can keep the same calmness as she's shown in regional cricket."
Dunkley faces stern competition to regain a regular berth from the likes of Tammy Beaumont, Maia Bouchier, Danni Wyatt and Alice Capsey, although England's Nat Sciver-Brunt was the only stand-out performer in the ODIs against Pakistan, which England won 2-0. Sciver-Brunt scored an unbeaten 124 in the third game but no other player reached fifty during the series, and Lewis said he was seeking more consistent form from his top six against New Zealand.
Similarly in three T20Is against Pakistan, only Wyatt's 48-ball 87 was truly eye-catching amid some handy contributions from captain Heather Knight and, further down the order, Dani Gibson and Amy Jones.
England defeated New Zealand in their ODIs earlier this year 2-1 and won the T20I series 4-1. England plan to name their T20I squad at the end of next week for a five-match series with New Zealand to follow the ODIs as they monitor "a couple of niggles".
In question is Sciver-Brunt's ability to bowl after suffering a flare-up of a knee problem which first struck during the Women's Ashes a year ago, having bowled during the latter stages of Pakistan's visit.
"As far as I'm aware, she's progressing back to bowling really well and we're just working with her to make sure that she's really confident in her body in terms of how much she can bowl," Lewis said. "But we'll make those decisions as we go along because obviously Nat's an incredibly precious player for us. We'll make sure that the bowling doesn't get in the way of her scoring the amount of runs that she does for England.
"I'll be very, very careful to make sure that Nat is fit and available for the [T20] World Cup. So that might mean we manage a little bit of her work through this series and also through the Hundred. But Nat will keep pushing on that. I know she's incredibly keen to make sure that she's still a fully fledged allrounder and we're just working with her to make sure that she's able to do both roles at the priority moments that we need her to."
Another player England are looking to manage carefully is Capsey, mindful of the volume of cricket she has been playing since bursting onto the scene as a 16-year-old. Since July 2022, Capsey has played 90 top-level T20 games behind only New Zealanders Amelia Kerr, Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates - all of whom will be touring England - and West Indies' Hayley Matthews. As a result she has just returned to training after taking a break instead of playing domestic cricket since the Pakistan series.
"I'd like her to be one of our best top-five batters in this format," Lewis said of Capsey's ODI role. "At the moment, Alice's schedule and program is primarily T20 cricket… to balance that and learn how to play 50-over cricket, which is a slightly different tempo, is a really tricky thing for her to do without just continually playing all the time. So Alice has had a really well-earned rest and hopefully she'll come back really refreshed for this ODI series."
England ODI squad: Heather Knight (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Alice Capsey, Kate Cross, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Danielle Wyatt

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo