Sophia Dunkley is a history maker. She became the first black woman to play Test cricket for England’s women and in doing so has blown the doors wide open for any young girls looking to follow in her footsteps. Sport is changing at a rapid pace, but the biggest mark of progress has been the fact that there is now joyous belief that the barriers of sex, gender and ethnicity are now being overcome.
“If you can't see it, you can't be it,” England rugby star Shaunagh Brown told The Sportsman.
“From the stereotype of female nurses and hairdressers, male firefighters, subconsciously and socially you just associate that role with that type of person. Therefore you don't associate it with you. It is getting people out there and realising that you can go out and achieve in different avenues, you don't have to follow a certain path.”
This is why players like Brown and Dunkley are so important. Young girls from minority backgrounds all over the country will have never seen somebody that looks like them play for England. That means they would have subconsciously believed that the sport wasn’t for them and they couldn’t dream of representing their country. Now, when they turn on the TV, they believe they can replicate these trailblazers.
Of course, Dunkley was absolutely unbelievable in the first innings of her Test debut. She scored 74 not out from 127 balls as England put pressure on India’s batters, who collapsed to 187 for 5 at the end of the day. Shafali Verma scores 96 on first-class debut for India but it was Dunkley’s composure with the bat that stole the show, and some of her shots showed just how mature she is, even at the tender age of 22.
"It's a very exciting day for me," Dunkley said at the close of play. "[I was] just trying to get the team in a good position. To get fifty was very, very special and nice to have mum in the crowd.”
Equally as important as her work on the field, she joined a list of names who broke the barriers for BAME players. Roland Butcher, England’s first black male cricketer, 1980. Paul Ince, England’s first black football captain, 1993. Sophia Dunkley, England’s first black female Test cricketer. 2021.
However despite the progress, Brown still feels there is plenty of work to be done in society until we truly celebrate diversity.
“This world is not equal,” she said. “My little nephew has dark skin, so when we talk about skin tone plasters, they are called skin tone but they aren't his skin tone. Why not have different colours? Darker coloured dolls? A barbie in a wheelchair? Why not have on TV someone in an adopted family rather than a neutral family, just exposing people to different situations. This world is not equal, it has a long way to go, it probably won't become equal until you acknowledge differences and celebrate them.”
We haven’t reached an era of full inclusivity quite yet, with the lack of openly gay players in professional football and the stigma around transexual sportspeople, but with this rate of progress, and with inspirational role models like Dunkley and Brown to idolise, we are certainly heading in the right direction.