England started their Commonwealth Games preparations in perfect fashion, with new Twenty20 opener Sophia Dunkley blitzing her way to 59 to help beat South Africa by six wickets and seal the multi-format series.
Heather Knight’s side were already 8-2 up, having followed up the drawn one-off Test in June with three emphatic one-day international victories, and a routine success in Chelmsford sealed the series with two T20 ties to spare.
Katherine Brunt got the ball rolling on what proved a memorable night for the veteran, who first brought up three figures in T20 wickets for England and then finished with a career-best in the format of four for 15.
It left the easy task of 112 to chase and Dunkley, promoted to open following the surprise omission of the experienced Tammy Beaumont, smashed her way to a maiden T20 half-century before victory was sealed with 30 balls left.
This was England’s first T20 in six months, but captain Knight was hoping it was the beginning of a busy period, with sights set on gold at the Birmingham Games.
For that to be achieved, a total of eight matches would need to be played in the sprint format over the next two and a half weeks and it perhaps contributed towards more youthful options being picked in the 15-player squad.
While talented youngster Issy Wong was one of those to benefit, and made it a hat-trick of international debuts inside a month at the County Ground, it was England’s veteran seamer who did the early damage.
Brunt, who is 17 years older than new-ball partner Wong, dismissed Lara Goodall and South Africa captain Sune Luus for ducks after sending the stumps flying with beautiful inswingers.
The second scalp was Brunt’s 100th wicket in T20 cricket for England and the tourists already looked to be missing Marizanne Kapp, who had returned home early for personal reasons having hit two fifties in the ODIs and a superb 150 in the one-off Test.
Anneke Bosch’s bright start did not last and she went after foolishly trying to cut Sarah Glenn before Nat Sciver joined the party with Mignon Du Preez the latest out for a single-figure score.
With South Africa struggling on 52 for four at the halfway stage, England were in cruise control, but Laura Wolvaardt stood strong to ensure it stayed a contest.
The Northern Superchargers batter, who played for the Barmy Army in May in an invitational event, produced a number of classy drives for four and a pull off Wong in the 18th over saw a 34-ball spell without a boundary end.
Brunt would bring Wolvaardt’s fun to an end at the death, with the South African out for 55 after Sciver ran in to take a fine catch at deep mid wicket.
It meant career-best figures for Brunt, with Sophie Ecclestone one of many to offer support with two for 27 after she had the last laugh over Sinalo Jafta, who hit the only maximum in the tourists’ 111 for nine.
Despite such a small victory target, new opener Dunkley showed her intent from the off and followed the orders of her captain in impressive fashion.
Knight spoke on Wednesday about England’s aim of being “ultra-aggressive” in the format for this summer when reflecting on Beaumont being dropped, and Dunkley set to work with an array of shots to the boundary.
A baseball-style pull down the ground was followed by a wristy flick for four before a huge maximum occurred in just the second over of the chase.
There was less joy for her partners down the other end, with Danni Wyatt and the promoted Bryony Smith out quickly, but Dunkley remained unflustered.
After already going past her previous highest T20 score of 35, Dunkley ended the powerplay with a gorgeous cover drive over the rope to bring up England’s fifty, with the in-form batter holding the pose having contributed 42 runs.
The half-century was achieved soon after and the new sprint format opener smashed one last six before her evening ended after 39 balls when she was caught by Ayabonga Khaka just inside the boundary rope.
Khaka had also caught the eye with the ball and claimed three for 13, but England captain Knight hit a breezy 24 not out to clinch the T20 opener and the series.