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Dunkley finds 'new lease of life' in India after tough summer

England batter "in a better place" after overcoming difficult Ashes campaign

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Sophia Dunkley feels she has a "new lease of life" after break  •  ECB via Getty Images

Sophia Dunkley feels she has a "new lease of life" after break  •  ECB via Getty Images

It was only months ago that Sophia Dunkley was all set to lead an England shake-up of a hierarchy that, as far as they were concerned, had been topped by Australia for too long. And they came close in a drawn series that saw Australia retain the Ashes, albeit not entirely convincingly.
Dunkley didn't play as big a role in that campaign as planned, however, and that took its toll. It is only now, after resting for the latter part of the home international summer and finding some late form in the WBBL, that Dunkley is back, ready to pull on her England shirt again feeling good about her game.
"On the whole, I'm quite disappointed with how I performed over the summer," Dunkley told ESPNcricinfo ahead of England's T20I and Test tour of India. "The Ashes was an amazing series, pretty intense, and every game came down to the wire but I was definitely disappointed with how I performed. I wanted to contribute to the team and help a team effort, and it felt like it wasn't quite there for me."
After scores of 9 and 16 in the Test, won by Australia, Dunkley scored a half-century in a losing cause during the first T20I. She then contributed to key stands in England's two subsequent victories, but was very much second fiddle to opening partner Danni Wyatt. Opening alongside Tammy Beaumont for the ODIs, however, Dunkley managed scores of just 8, 13 and 2 as England claimed that leg, also 2-1. A home Ashes series that drew unprecedented public interest brought with it new challenges in the form of increased scrutiny and Dunkley took some time out, missing the first two matches of the Women's Hundred and, later, both white-ball series against Sri Lanka.
"Missing the Sri Lanka series was a discussion that I had with the coaching staff and especially with the head coach and it was about resting really," Dunkley said.
"It was a good time to have a rest and step away and do things that are important to me, see my friends and family. We've got an absolutely massive year in international cricket coming up. So I was very grateful that I've got a brilliant team of coaches who really support me and gave me that time, and I'm going into the India series feeling pretty refreshed and excited. I feel I've got a new lease of life after having that time away, which is great."
If anything, the spotlight looks set to intensify next year, with some 50,000 advance ticket sales already for England Women's home international season, featuring Pakistan and New Zealand. That is already up 30% on the same time last year, with the Women's Ashes not hitting the 50,000-mark until late January of this year. But Dunkley feels better equipped to deal with another intense home summer this time.
"You get DMs and comments all the time of opinions of people and it's just how the game is, I guess," she said. "It is hard sometimes to ignore it, but at the same time it is part of the game, being more in the spotlight, it's just one of those things where you've got to accept that it's going to happen. For me, it was just the intensity of the summer - it was a massive series, it was amazing. We got a lot of support, which was brilliant, and it was pretty emotional at times to feel the country as behind us as it was.
"I think sometimes, the way sport goes, you're going to get negative comments as well. It's just one of those things, but I think it's good to have that experience because you go through that and you come out stronger the other side. It's put me in a better place in a weird way."
Dunkley went on to score 262 runs in the Hundred at 37.42, with a strike-rate of 138.62, and overcame a slow start to the WBBL season to post a 48-ball 73 for Melbourne Stars against Perth Scorchers. Shortly before heading to Australia, she was among a group of England players who travelled to India for a training camp ahead of the current tour, which starts with the first of three T20Is on Wednesday, followed by a four-day Test.
Dunkley won't be returning to India next year for the second edition of the WPL, though. Having been released by Gujarat Giants, she opted not to enter the auction, which will be held on December 9, the same day England and India play their second T20I.
"It was a decision that I debated for quite a while," Dunkley said. "I absolutely loved my time at the WPL last year and I had an amazing time at Gujarat Giants and a lot of special memories there and I think the WPL's an incredible competition. I'd 100 percent love to go back and play again if I get another opportunity in the future. Playing cricket in India is amazing. I just think to me this year we've got a massive international year and, mentally and physically, to be in the best place for that I think to not go into the auction is the best decision for me.
"To work on my game and to be in the best position to play for England is my priority really. It wasn't an easy decision at all. It took a lot of time and a lot of discussions. Going back into the auction, there's no guarantee that you'll get picked up anyway, but in the case that I did, it was just weighing up the different decisions I had to make. The way the year's panned out, it makes it tricky as it's so busy and sometimes you've got to make those decisions."
Jon Lewis, England Women's head coach, organised the India training camp after the Sri Lanka series exposed his side's weaknesses facing spin bowling. With a T20I World Cup in Bangladesh next year followed by the ODI version in India in 2025, it is an area he wants to improve and this bilateral series will be the first test of any inroads made.
For Dunkley, she has made some technical changes which she hopes will bring dividends. Her grip, notable for being unconventionally split, has opened up more, offering her bat a clearer back path and, in turn, smoother stroke-making.
"I struggled a little bit with my grip throughout the summer, which I felt limited me," she said. "I've done a lot of work on that and it feels in a good place and I'm going to continue working on it the next few months or so. I'm seeing some really good signs at training and in the Big Bash, when I got going, it felt a lot better."

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