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Sophia Dunkley to open batting as England embrace 'disruptors' role

Hosts haven't been afraid to try new things against formidable Australians

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Sophia Dunkley scythes one away, England vs Australia, 1st Women's T20I, Birmingham, July 1, 2023

Sophia Dunkley will move to the top of England's ODI batting order  •  Getty Images

Sophia Dunkley will open the batting as England seek to embrace their role as "disruptors", and win the opening ODI against Australia to keep their Ashes hopes alive.
Opener Tammy Beaumont, who scored a record-breaking 208 in the Test, which Australia won by 89 runs, returned to the England squad named on Monday after missing out on the T20I leg. But Emma Lamb, who had become her regular partner in the 50-over format, was overlooked after a string of low scores including innings of 10 and 28 in the Test then 8 and 0 in for England A in their one-day series against Australia A.
Dunkley scored a century having moved from the middle order up to No.3 in an ODI against South Africa almost exactly a year ago in Bristol, the venue of Wednesday's match. Heather Knight, the England captain, has confirmed that she herself will step up to that role now.
"Sophia's going to open the batting," Knight said. "She moved up to three last year, was brilliant, really successful, made an impact, so she's going to move up to open and do exactly how she has done in the ODI team at three.
"We want to maximise the powerplay and that was a change we made with Sophia moving up to three last year to try and take on the powerplay a little bit more. But with Sophia, she's a proper batter as well. She's not just a little pinch-hitter at the top."
Dunkley scored a half-century in a losing cause during the first T20I against Australia and shared an important 57-run stand with Danni Wyatt in the second, where Wyatt scored 76 from 46 balls to lead England to victory. While Dunkley only scored 9 in the third T20I at Lord's, a 39-run opening stand dominated by Wyatt's 26 from 15 balls set England on track for a 2-1 victory in that leg of the series. An in-form Wyatt provides a England with a strong option in the middle order for the ODIs.
"Their partnership at Lord's was outstanding," Knight said. "I thought that probably won us the game, the way they started, Danni in particular taking on the game, and Sophia plays that role so brilliantly for us.
"Naturally she scores quite quickly so she can score big runs as well. It's for her to play her natural game and put the bad balls away and then also try and put pressure back on the bowler, maybe not quite at the tempo she does in T20 but that's the logic behind it."
Also crucial in the victory at Lord's was Alice Capsey's 46 off just 23 balls, which broke a run of five T20Is for England in which she scored just 17 runs in total.
"She's obviously very attacking and she's not always going to be Mrs. Consistent and that's not the role we want her to play, we want her to go and take the game on and do exactly what she did the other night," Knight said. "I think she'll become more consistent as she goes on, but she's only 18 and the talent that she's got is unbelievable.
"I was really pleased with her. Obviously she found it a bit tough leading into it, hadn't performed the way she wanted to, so for her to come in and do that and win a key game is a really good sign."
Lauren Filer returns after making her international debut during the Test and taking two wickets in each innings, troubling the Australia batters at times with her raw pace, bowling at speeds in excess of 75mph/120kph. Playing regional cricket for Western Storm, she is a strong chance to play the opening ODI on her home ground.
"Potentially we see her as someone that can disrupt a little bit and bowl quick in those middle overs and try and take wickets," Knight said. "She knows the ground very well and she's really exciting. She's still quite raw, you saw that in the Test match, but the way she played even surprised me, how she rose to the occasion and just made things happen every time she bowled.
"It felt like something was going to happen and that was exactly the role we gave to her, very clear, to run in, bowl fast and try and make an impact. That's what she did and that's the role if she gets in the 11 that we see her playing in this ODI series."
England haven't been afraid to try new things in a bid to throw the Australians off course and Knight believes such a mentality shift is beginning to bear fruit. But with Australia on a 15-game winning streak in ODIs and the hosts needing to win all three if they are to win the Ashes while their opponents need to win just one to retain them, she expects a tough contest.
"It's things like picking Lauren Filer in a Test match when she's completely unknown, just because she can bowl quick and try and shake things up and try and make an impact," Knight said. "Doing things a little bit differently, like using [offspiner] Charlie Dean first over [at Lord's] just to do things that the Australians don't expect and things that we feel are good things to do tactically and good things for us as a group.
"The mentality is probably the most important thing and trying to chase a very, very good team that have had a lot of success, we feel like we have to try and maximise how we do things as much as we can, and try and disrupt what's a very good thing."

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