This winter’s women’s Ashes Test was extraordinary for several reasons, but 23-year-old Englishwoman Sophia Dunkley stunning a star-studded bowling attack was particularly remarkable.
On the biggest stage of her young career, the middle order batter hit 45 off 32 balls to reignite briefly England’s hopes of toppling mighty Australia in Canberra.
It was a short but stunning innings, as the Test novice displayed exceptional ball-striking and poise on one of the biggest stages imaginable.
Then again, as she enters her first ODI World Cup, Dunkley has a knack for handling new experiences with aplomb.
She joined Finchley Cricket Club at Under-11 level before earning a scholarship at Mill Hill, where she became the first girl to play for the school’s first XI.
In 2012, she made her debut for Middlesex’s senior side aged just 14.
Further success soon followed.
Dunkley played in the inaugural season of the Kia Super League, England’s first women’s franchise tournament, in 2016 and an England debut came in 2018.
Last summer, she starred in the first season of The Hundred and made her Test debut.
Based solely on her cricketing ability, Dunkley’s rise to the highest level was as smooth as one of her immaculate sweep shots.
There have inevitably been challenges, and Dunkley has faced obstacles that very few English cricketers can fathom.
She is only the second black woman to play for England and the first to play a Test, meaning she is inevitably portrayed as a precious paragon of diversity.
In a society where discrimination is being scrutinised intensely, this is quite the burden.
Yet, even with cricket reeling from its own racism scandal, Dunkley has coped with that attention phenomenally.
On her historic test debut, against India last June, Dunkley hit an unbeaten 74 to lift England out of trouble, showcasing her array of deft cuts and glorious drives.
She went about proceedings with a casual smile on her face, as if she were still playing in the back garden.
It followed a trend of Dunkley handling new experiences like a veteran.
In her opening international innings, at the 2018 T20 World Cup against West Indies, Dunkley top-scored for England with 35.
In The Hundred’s debut campaign last summer, she finished as third-highest run-scorer, and in first her ODI innings earlier the same season, she guided England home with an unbeaten 73 against India.
A first 50-over World Cup beckons and, while those performances indicated she would be unfazed, the final confirmation came in that epic Ashes Test, and Dunkley’s Canberra cameo offers defending champions England huge encouragement ahead of the tournament.
Australia’s domineering form makes them the overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy in New Zealand.
Dunkley, though, demonstrated Down Under that she is willing to take them on and produce devastating results.
The road to the title likely goes through Australia, and Dunkley has the skill and self-belief needed to lead England’s charge.
She also offers England’s batting line-up a new dynamic.
Heather Knight, Nat Sciver and Tammy Beaumont have 280 ODI caps between them, while Amy Jones and Lauren Winfield-Hill both have over 50 appearances in the format.
Yet with only ten caps, Dunkley will likely complete the top six and, in a squad where the personnel rarely changes, she provides much-needed youthful exuberance.
England face a tough battle to retain their crown.
They are competing with a vintage Australian side, as well as several other strong outfits, and are approaching the end of a long, exhausting winter.
Dunkley, through her habit of rising to new challenges and her promising display against the tournament favourites, could be the best answer to both those problems.
Sophia Dunkley is already one of the most socially significant cricketers in England history.
It is a measure of her temperament and batting ability she might be similarly influential on the field.