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Edwards, Dunkley and the Vipers connection - how Southern Brave reached the Hundred final

Charlotte Edwards seeks to add Hundred title to impressive CV after masterminding Brave's maiden campaign

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Southern Brave's brains trust: Charlotte Edwards and Anya Shrubsole with batting coach Ash Wright  •  Getty Images

Southern Brave's brains trust: Charlotte Edwards and Anya Shrubsole with batting coach Ash Wright  •  Getty Images

Southern Brave cruised into the inaugural women's Hundred final with a game to spare, winning seven out of eight in the group stages. They have been the fastest-scoring team with the bat and the tightest team with the ball in the competition, living up to their billing as favourites ahead of the tournament. What has been the secret to their success?
The Edwards factor
Charlotte Edwards' reputation as a coach has burgeoned over the last two years and it would be no surprise to see her succeed Lisa Keightley in the England job before too long. She captained Southern Vipers to the inaugural KSL title in 2016, coached them to the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy last summer, and there is every chance she will make it a treble in the Hundred.
Her role in recruitment has been particularly key - Mahela Jayawardene, her men's counterpart, joked that he "didn't know how Lottie managed to get that top order together" - and she has galvanised the dressing room, encouraging batters to play without fear of being dismissed.
"I was pretty clear from the start that I really wanted to work with her," Anya Shrubsole, their captain, said. "She was my first England captain and we've always got on. She's really quite inspiring to work with and you want that in your corner. Her knowledge of the game is obviously really good and we're both to the point, but pretty relaxed."
Drafting Dunkley
Edwards drew up a wishlist of players after being appointed coach and while she was only 21 at the time, Sophia Dunkley's name was at the top of it. "I remember her calling me when I was in Portugal and I was dancing round the swimming pool when she said she'd play for me," Edwards laughed.
"I knew what a talent the girl was going to be and we offered her a top-four batting spot, which nobody else did. That's how we got her: we believed in her and we knew what she could do."
It became clear in England's multi-format series against India earlier in the summer that Brave had made a wise move but Dunkley's performances in the Hundred have still surpassed expectations: she made 244 runs in the group stages, with an average of 48.80 and a strike rate of 143.52 demonstrating her ability to combine heavy-scoring with a high tempo from No. 3.
Vipers core
Dunkley and Shrubsole are exceptions that prove the rule as two of the only players in the Brave squad without a tie to Southern Vipers, the regional hub based at the Ageas Bowl who previously competed in the KSL. "We were really keen to keep a core of domestic player that Lottie knows and that play down here at the Vipers," Shrubsole said.
Edwards added: "Anya knows I've got a lot of knowledge about the domestic structure and she's trusted me in terms of our selections domestically, which have proved to be really, really good ones. A lot of it was about people we knew had played with this group and a big part of this group has been the fact we gelled together really quickly.
"The biggest part of it has been that our domestic players have stood up. You expect England players and overseas players to win you games but we've actually had really good performances from our domestic players: Lauren Bell and Maia Bouchier have been two of the standouts."
Bouchier has only faced 55 balls in the tournament due to Brave's top-order strength but has batted positively, making 85 runs off them at a strike rate of 154.54. Following her match-winning stand with Dunkley against Northern Superchargers, Danni Wyatt described the pair as "stars of the future - that's going to be the future of English cricket right there."
Bell, meanwhile, is Brave's second-highest wicket-taker with her hooping inswingers and has impressed both in the Powerplay and the middle of an innings. She has claimed some big scalps - Nat Sciver, Hayley Matthews, Sarah Taylor and Jemimah Rodrigues among them - and Dinesh Karthik, the former India batter, said on Sky Sports that she has "everything going for her as a fast bowler".
Two of their three overseas players have Vipers links: Stafanie Taylor has anchored in the middle order and chipped in with her offbreaks, while Amanda-Jade Wellington - a late replacement for Amelia Kerr - is their leading wicket-taker, having played under Edwards with the Vipers and in the WBBL with Adelaide Strikers. She was initially expected to miss the final due to state commitments but has been allowed to stay on.
Batting depth
Wyatt's opening partnership with Smriti Mandhana - who has left for some time at home ahead of India's Australia tour - was dream-team stuff, with their complementary styles making them hard to attack with the new ball. Both scored at strike rates above 130 across the group stage, with Wyatt explaining that the message from Edwards had simply been: "Play your natural game."
They were able to do so because of the resources that Brave deployed beneath them, with Dunkley, Taylor and Bouchier offering a cushion in the rare occasions that both openers failed. Their allrounders have hardly been used: Shrubsole hit 40 not out off 30 balls in their opening game but has only batted once since, and Wellington - a handy lower-order hitter in the WBBL - has faced 10 balls in the competition.
Saturday will provide a big test, with Mandhana's absence putting more pressure on the rest of the top order to perform; Gaby Lewis, the Ireland international replacing her, is an attacking opener but struggled for rhythm in her first innings against Oval Invincibles on Monday. If they can remain positive and trust their batting depth, their bowlers should be strong enough to get them over the line.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98