Raf Nicholson chats with England all-rounder Sophia Dunkley, who discusses her surprise World T20 call-up, her life thereafter and juggling university with cricket.
In October last year, Sophia Dunkley got a phone call that would change her life. On the other end of the line was England coach Mark Robinson, telling her that she had been selected for the World T20. A few weeks later she was on a plane to the Caribbean, leaving her regular life at Loughborough University – where she is currently studying Sports Science – far behind.
“When I got the phone call my reaction was just utter disbelief,” Dunkley recalls. “Looking back to this time last year, I would never imagine any of these things could happen. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind. It’s only recently that I’ve sat down and thought about it all.”
It was far from certain that Dunkley would get a game during the tournament but she was given her debut in England’s ﬁrst completed ﬁxture, against Bangladesh in St Lucia. Her chance to shine came two matches later, against West Indies, when the aggressive right-hander showed why she is regarded as such an exciting prospect.
Coming in at No.7 after England had slumped to 48-5, Dunkley stroked her way to 35 from 30 balls, top scoring and dragging her side to something approaching a respectable total, and kept her place for the semi-ﬁnal and ﬁnal.
“It was the best month of my life,” says Dunkley. “I really, really loved it – the whole experience was amazing. But, thinking back, it feels surreal too.”
After England ﬁnished as runners-up to Australia, Dunkley returned to real life with a bump. She is in England’s Academy squad but is not paid to play cricket – the unoﬃcial policy is to reserve full contracts for those who are not studying full-time, and so is expected to combine a full schedule of training with her university degree.
“It was a bit mad, going from a World Cup to being a student again,” she says. “I’ve split my last year at uni over two years so I haven’t had any exams for two years, but it can be hard juggling everything.”
Dunkley, who grew up playing cricket in a cul-de-sac in North London, has come up through the Middlesex age-group system and attracted Robinson’s attention via her performances for her county and for Surrey Stars in the Kia Super League. Last summer, batting at No.6 for Stars, she hit a half-century on the opening day of the tournament; it was enough to convince Robinson that she was ready to step up to international level.
Following the World T20, she was selected for England’s tours of India and Sri Lanka earlier this year and played in ﬁve of the six T20Is. Though Dunkley only got one chance with the bat, scoring 14 not out in a thrilling one-run win against India at Guwahati, she did get to try out her leg-spin against the Sri Lankans, and picked up her ﬁrst international scalp.
It remains to be seen when Dunkley will get her next taste of international cricket after being unlucky to miss out on England’s squads so far this summer. The T20 leg of the Ashes could provide her chance.
If she keeps batting the way she has been this season, scoring a competition-high 451 runs in the Women’s One-Day Cup for Middlesex, she will be hard to ignore for long.
“I still feel I need to improve a lot but I want to keep my bowling going,” she says. “In T20 for England it’s always handy if we’ve got a few extra overs here and there. If I can improve over the next few years, maybe in the future it could be a strength of mine.”
This article was first published in the World Cup special August issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly, as part of the 25 best young women cricketers in the world feature. To read the full issue, pick up a copy here.