Smale sets out to cause a storm in allrounder ranks

Sophia Smale celebrates a wicket Getty Images

Sophia Smale ended last season's Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy on a personal high and begins this one with big ambitions.

A half-century as opener and two wickets for Western Storm, albeit in a losing cause against Thunder, came immediately off the back of a 30-ball 32 batting at No. 8 and 2 for 38 in another defeat, to Central Sparks. But it was the culmination of some hard work on her batting technique after returning from South Africa as part of England's Under-19 Women's side which finished runners up to India at the inaugural age group T20 World Cup.

"That 50 was probably a big score," Smale told ESPNcricinfo while on tour with England U19s in Sri Lanka last month. "It was also just a big point to prove. I came back up the order and then I think a lot of people weren't sure and almost thought of me as middle order. So I definitely think that was a good time score runs.

"I'm well aware at the minute I'm seen as a bowler and that's fine with me, but if someone said 'what do you want to be in the future?' I want to be a batter that bowls left-arm spin - and I'm not talking part-time, left-arm spin - I'm talking a batting allrounder hopefully. That's the ambition."

In Sri Lanka for a tri-series with the hosts and Australia Under-19s, she took five wickets across three T20s, including 3 for 19 against Australia as England topped the table. England lost both their 50-over matches, with Smale taking three wickets and scoring 33 runs in all.

After an eye-catching season for Oval Invincibles as a 17-year-old in the 2022 Women's Hundred, where she took five wickets at an average of 21.60 and economy rate of 7.20, she returned last year with eight wickets at 18.25 and 6.25. She is relishing the prospect of being reunited with some of the biggest names in the game, which will this year include prolific Sri Lanka opener and captain Chamari Athapaththu at Invincibles.

At Western Storm, she has taken the chance to pick the brain of England captain Heather Knight and, although they've not discussed senior international prospects, Smale plans to be the sort of player "dominating" domestic cricket that Knight called for ahead of this weekend's RHFT opening round.

"I feel like you've probably got to step up to England A before you go to England, so I want to be in England A, it's something I'm aspiring to do now," Smale said. "That's the first stepping stone and I guess dominating domestic cricket will help me do that. If I'm putting in the performances with the bat and ball, they can't ignore that.

"I'm hoping to play for England, that's obviously my goal, what my always dream has always been… but I also know there's a few pretty good left-arm spinners knocking about in women's cricket at the minute in England so it's going to be pretty tough, that's why I think batting is really important as well."

The importance of having a strong domestic season was emphasised this week when the ECB announced the eight teams which will play at the top level of a restructured competition from 2025. Somerset, who provide players to Storm, were one of those eight teams while neighbouring Gloucestershire were not and another feeder county, Glamorgan in Smale's native Wales, will have to wait until at least 2027 for inclusion in the top flight. That means players from all regions are competing for fewer places at the highest level from next year and may have to move.

But, before the successful team bids were announced, Smale said it was a "great time" to be a female cricketer in England and Wales, so much so that she recognised the opportunity she had upon finishing school to pursue cricket as a career.

"I finished my A Levels last year and decided this is my dream, I've got to put everything into it," Smale said. "I was lucky... my last year of school I was already on contract, so I just sort of walked into training straight away knowing I was on a contract.

"I decided I really wasn't set on doing anything anyway at university. Maybe if I was set on something I would've, but I just think you've got one shot, you've got to give it your all. You've got to give it every hour of your day. My motto is always, don't look back and regret you didn't put the work in, so that's why it's really important that I focus on my cricket at this moment in time."