While Thailand flew the emerging cricket flag at this year’s Women’s T20 World Cup, their ascension to the biggest stage was hardly an overnight success. Years of hard work and training led to their qualification, and before arriving in Australia they had been working their way up the ladder within Asia. A 2017 gold medal at the SEA games was a highlight, but before even that, they made waves as they stormed through regional qualification to claim the lone Asian slot at the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier.
With the qualifying tournament hosted in Hong Kong, the picturesque Hong Kong Cricket Club was the venue of Thailand’s most thrilling match, a one-wicket victory over Nepal. It was led by a typically versatile performance from Chanida Sutthiruang, who snared 2/24 then top-scored with 27* to get Thailand home. Nepali skipper Rubina Belbashi chose to bat, and her colleagues responded with a steady if slightly sluggish performance, before Belbashi herself came to the crease and provided some late impetus as she and Nary Thapa utilised the short boundaries to carry Nepal to 108/4 off their 20.
In reply, Nattakan Chantam blasted off with 23 from 11 deliveries, including a brutal start where she dispatched Belbashi for 6 on the first ball of the innings. The pace slowed after her dismissal, but at 47-1 after 7 overs, Thailand looked well in control. A disastrous 8th over lost three wickets, then two more fell in the 11th and another in the 12th. Nepal had punched through Thailand’s fragile middle order and Chanida was left to shepherd the tail at 62-7. Fortunately she was joined by Wongpaka Liengprasert, who stuck around long enough to get Thailand to 96-7 after 16 overs. Again victory looked at hand, but again the match took a turn.
Nepal’s captain Belbashi, back from her pasting at the hands of Chantam, returned to bowl the 17th, and trapped Liengprasert LBW. A tight 18th from Sabnam Rai left Belbashi to bowl the 19th with Thailand 3 runs short of victory, and Nepal 2 wickets away. The tension ratcheted up further as young leg-spinner Suleeporn Laomi scrambled 2 to level the scores, and Belbashi knocked back her stumps to bring Nepal within one ball of denying the Thais. But number 11 Rattana Sangsoma managed to get the crucial run away and Thailand’s cheers floated over the gorge at Wong Nai Chung Gap as they celebrated a remarkable victory.