Mention the success of the Thailand women’s cricket team in a sports conversation and most people look at you quizzically. Even those somewhat familiar with Elyse Perry, Meg Lanning, and the growing intrigue of the Women’s Big Bash League appear mildly confused when you tell them that Thailand will be playing the West Indies at the WACA in under a month. In a World Cup.
This surprise, or even scepticism, is of course understandable. Thailand is not a country known for its cricketing prowess. But here we are. Thailand will participate in its first ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia later this month. They have beaten more established cricketing nations such as Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands and Papua New Guinea in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in 2019.
Despite being a semi-professional side with relatively little funding, Thailand leaves no stone unturned in its preparation for tournaments. And after qualifying for the world cup, nothing has changed. Recent results against good opposition show marked improvement from the qualifiers. Thailand spent most of December in Australia playing ACT Meteors, NSW Breakers, and Queensland Fire XIs and acclimatizing to the quicker, bouncier wickets Down Under. The team performed credibly, winning matches against the Meteors and Breakers.
Then in January, Thailand ran Bangladesh very close at a quadrangular tournament (also involving India A and B) in Patna, after losing to them by 70 runs in the Final of the World Cup Qualifier. Thailand also beat a decent India A side by 9 runs in the same warm up tournament before losing to them by seven wickets days later after being bowled out for 45.
Consistency against the faster, more accurate bowlers of the Test-playing nations will be a challenge. Preparation has been geared precisely towards improving this aspect of the team’s performance. In the weeks after they returned to Bangkok from the qualifier, Coach Harshal Pathak took a number of key players – including vice captain Nattaya Boochatham and Nattakan Chantam – to Pune for a month-long batting camp. Chantam, in particular, has been in sparkling form, scoring 82* against India A and 60 against Bangladesh.
Sornnarin Tippoch (c), Nattaya Boochatham (vc), Naruemol Chaiwai, Nattakan Chantam, Onnicha Kamchomphu, Rosanen Kanoh, Suwanan Khiaoto, Nannapat Koncharoenkai (wk), Suleeporn Laomi, Soraya Lateh, Wongpaka Liengprasert, Phannita Maya, Ratanaporn Padunglerd, Thipatcha Putthawong, Chanida Sutthiruang
The selectors have named a settled 15-person squad for the world cup. The experienced Sornnarin Tippoch leads the team in her 12th year as Captain.
Suwanan Khiaoto and Thipatcha Putthawong, both participants in the recent Malaysian Women’s Super League, are debutants. Khiaoto represented Thailand A in the Thailand T20 Smash and Putthawong was a key performer in the Inaugural U-19 Belt and Road Tournament 2019, which Thailand won. Arriya Yenueak is the one player from the qualifier to miss out on a place in the squad.
Players to watch
There are of course the usual suspects. If she can get the ball to swing, ICC Women’s Emerging Player of the year, Chanida Sutthiruang will be amongst the wickets even at this level. The faster, bouncier wickets in Australia should suit Nattakan Chantam, whose game square of the wicket is as good as anyone’s in the game. Expect nothing but four tight overs and calm under pressure from veteran Tippoch. Nattaya Boochatham and Naruemol Chaiwai will need to be amongst the runs and wickets in Australia.
But Thailand will require more from their younger players if they want to make an impression at this tournament.
Laomi is young but hardly inexperienced. The former WBBL Development Rookie was a key cog in the bowling line up throughout the Qualifier, and, as a leg-spinner, offers crucial variety in a team full of off-spinners. Her bowling is skiddy, remarkably accurate, and full of subtle variations in flight, dip, and pace. She patrols the cover-point region with uncanny speed and is often involved in run-outs.
One of a number of university students in the squad, Koncharoenkai is fast establishing herself as an indispensable member of this team. Quick with the gloves, she will also occupy the all-important number 3 position in the batting line up. Although Nannapat only has one fifty to her name in 33 T20Is, she is a sweet timer of the ball and if she gets going, will be a pleasure to watch. Expect the quicker wickets in Australia to suit her style.
The 22-year old is one of four regular off-spinners in this team. She has a bowling average of 9.04, which is marginally better than that of Laomi, Tippoch, and Wongpaka Liengprasert who took 5/12 against Sri Lanka at the last Asia Cup. Called on to bowl the final over in a crucial encounter against Ireland at the Qualifiers with the latter needing 8 runs to win, she bowled a tight over under remarkable pressure to take Thailand to victory. Onnicha’s calm in the toughest of pressure cooker situations will stand her in good stead during the World Cup.
At this level, Thailand will be unlikely to blast opponents out of the park with the bat. Expect the combination of tight lines and lengths with the ball, electric fielding, and quick changes in between overs as they seek to strangle opponents into sub-par totals.
The top-order will be expected to chase anything under 130 on relatively fast outfields and flat decks if they are to win matches. One key change appears to be that former opener Chaiwai, a good sweeper of the ball, will bat in the middle order and the more orthodox left-hander Boochatham will open the batting.
The team’s goal is clear. “We want to finish in the top eight so that we do not have to go back to the Qualifiers for the next world cup,” senior batter Naruemol Chaiwai told me in October. Team manager Shan Kader also said at the time, “We know which team(s) we are going to target in our group and we think we have got a chance.”
A win against one of England, South Africa, West Indies, and Pakistan is a tall order but not impossible, given that they have beaten a test team before.
Kader is confident that Thailand will be competitive. “We are preparing well and playing courageous cricket with great intent. The team has shown their versatility in adapting to different situations and are also showing great execution of our plans,” he says.
It is this searing self-belief that is Thailand’s greatest strength at the World Cup. Discount them at your peril.
Thailand T20 World Cup draw:
|Sun 16 |
|10.00am||Bangladesh||Allan Border Field, Brisbane (GMT+10)|
|Wed 19 February||10.30am||New Zealand||Karen Rolton Oval, Adelaide (+10.5)|
|Sat 22 |
|3.00pm||West Indies||WACA, Perth (+8)|
|Wed 26 February||3.00pm||England||Canberra (+11)|
|Fri 28 |
|3.00pm||South Africa||Canberra (+11)|
|Tue 3 March||3.00pm||Pakistan||Sydney Showground (+11)|
For in-depth coverage of the Thailand Women’s team during the T20 World Cup, follow the websites and social media accounts of the Cricket Association of Thailand (CAT) and Emerging Cricket.