NEWPORT’S Sophia Smale has signed a first professional contract with Western Storm.

The left-arm spinner has earned a deal after a sensational 2022 in which she helped Oval Invincibles to win The Hundred after impressing with the bat with the Storm to average 44 in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

The 17-year-old’s exploits have earned selection for the England squad at the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa in January.

Smale, a student at Monmouth School for Girls, said: “I’m delighted to have signed my first professional contract at Western Storm.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional cricket and I can’t believe I now have this opportunity.

“We have a great group of girls here at Storm and I hope that we can continue to do Wales and the West Country proud.”

Smale starred in The Hundred after receiving a late call-up, playing in seven games to take eight wickets from 140 balls.

Next year she will be in the England side that locks horns with Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Rwanda in the group stages, with the tournament running from January 14 to 29.

Smale’s deal with the Storm comes after an announcement of a £3.5million funding increase for the professional women’s game, with all eight regions having 10 ECB-funded professional players by February.

The Storm accelerated the start of those contracts to allow players to train throughout the winter.

Head coch Trevor Griffin said: “I’m really excited about this group of players. We have a great blend of youth and experience, and all the players richly deserve their opportunity.

“We want Western Storm to be pushing for silverware, and a big winter lies ahead with the squad to ensure we are ready to challenge in the summer.”