Sophia Dunkley says she is hopeful that the record crowds for women’s cricket during the Hundred will transfer into increased interest in England’s series against New Zealand, which begins on Wednesday with a Twenty20 at Chelmsford.
Chelmsford is rumoured to be a sellout, but the Essex ground has long been a hotbed of support for the women’s game. The remainder of the series – two further T20s followed by five one-day internationals – will prove the real test, amid questions about the extent to which the Hundred has successfully served as a gateway into other formats for its new audience.
Dunkley enjoyed a brilliant Hundred, fully justifying the decision by the Southern Brave coach, Charlotte Edwards, to recruit her: she finished third on the list of leading scorers, with 244 at a strike rate of 142. Having made both her Test and ODI debuts against India in June, the 23-year-old has enjoyed quite a summer.
“This year has been one of my more successful ones,” Dunkley said. “For me it’s been my mindset [that has changed]. In the past it’s easy to get fixated on selections or games which are coming up. The more I’ve tried to think of each game as it comes and be in the moment, that’s where I’ve felt I’ve been able to impact the game more.”
Of the boost the Hundred could provide England’s series against New Zealand, she said: “Hopefully it’s given people a good insight into women’s cricket and how good it is. It was an exciting competition and we hope that’s drawn a lot more people in.”
Dunkley’s success in the Hundred came batting at No 3, but it remains to be seen whether she can achieve her long-term goal of breaking into England’s top five in this series. She has previously batted at No 6 in ODIs and No 7 in T20s. “It is quite a hard lineup to get into,” she said. “For me, it’s trying to focus on what I’m doing and score as many runs as possible, and hopefully put my hat in the ring to be in that top four further down the line.”
A similar challenge will be faced by the three new faces in the T20 squad: the 23-year-old Emma Lamb, the 22-year-old Maia Bouchier and the 20-year-old Charlie Dean – all called up on the back of impressive performances in domestic cricket. Lamb has hit centuries in the county T20 competition as well as both regional tournaments, but it is Dean who is probably best-placed to win a cap. Her tidy off-spin was used to great effect in the Hundred by the London Spirit captain, Heather Knight, and it may well be that the England captain sees a role for her with the ball as much as with the bat.
For England, the key focus will be the ODI leg of the series as they gear up to defend their World Cup title in New Zealand next March. The hope is that their opponents will prove more formidable opposition than they did in March, when England pulled off a 3-0 whitewash in the T20 leg of the tour after winning the ODIs 2-1.
New Zealand will be bolstered by the return of the veteran Suzie Bates, who is staging a comeback after major shoulder surgery, as well as the captain, Sophie Devine, who took two months away from the game earlier in the year for mental health reasons.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to have our full-strength side together for a while and get those combinations going,” the vice-captain, Amy Satterthwaite, said. “Hopefully we can put some big partnerships together and see our top order firing the way that we know they can.”