England v India: Sophia Dunkley will remember Test debut ‘for a long time’

As Sophia Dunkley raised her bat to celebrate reaching a half-century on Test debut against India, her mum was one of the many spectators applauding.

So too were her England team-mates, who were not only pleased with the foothold it had given them in the match, but also with the coming of age of one of English cricket’s most talented young players.

Playing with a maturity which belied her 22 years, Dunkley had, in the words of Test Match Special commentator and her former Middlesex captain Isabelle Westbury, made the leap from “prospect to real deal”.

She anchored her side when they struggled against India on the opening day, saw off the new ball on the second morning and played her shots after lunch as England played for a declaration.

England’s 396-6 looked within reach of the tourists when India openers Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana blazed their way to 167-0, but five wickets for just 13 runs tipped the Test match firmly in England’s favour.

“The last hour was a bit crazy but we have momentum now,” Dunkley said, as India closed 209 runs behind.

Dunkley has risen through the ranks in recent years – impressing in T20 international and domestic cricket before finally getting her first Test cap on Wednesday morning.

She got into cricket as a youngster, starting with games in her north London street with her neighbour.

“He was one of my best friends growing up,” she told The Guardian in 2018. external-link

“We both joined a club together, a boys’ club, and it just stemmed from there.”

She made her debut for Middlesex in 2012 aged just 14, but even then her maturity and the depth of her game was on show.

Westbury said that it was obvious from a young age that her team-mate would go on for England honours.

“At the age of 14 she was opening the batting for us and winning matches, taking games away from the other sides,” she told BBC Sport.

“I won’t even tell you how far she could hit the ball compared to me when the age gap was, at that point, a decade. It’s quite embarrassing. She’s very comfortable in her own skills.”

Dunkley is the fifth-leading run-scorer in this season’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, averaging 98 from three innings with one century, but her ability to take her white-ball game into the Test arena was the most impressive.

She arrived at the crease, on debut, with England on the ropes. In the late Bristol afternoon, the hosts had slipped from 230-2 to 251-6, and Dunkley was facing a rejuvenated India attack.

She gritted her way to the close and then made hay on Thursday. Her off side game was strong as she sent drives lacing past the fielders and she was not afraid to use her feet as India’s spinners found turn.

“The half-century is all a bit of a blur, to be honest,” Dunkley modestly told Sky Sports at the lunch interval.

Her mum, who she cites as being a huge influence on her career, was nervously watching on from the stands, but she left the ground having seen her daughter secure an unbeaten 74 on Test debut to help her England side take control of this match.

“Sophia is one of those players that attacks to defend,” Westbury added.

“Seeing her mature in the last couple of years has been amazing.”

BBC News

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