We are coming to the end of our time at the T20 World Cup 2020. It can be a challenge to remain motivated, knowing that you cannot qualify for the semi-final, and that you will be back in the forgotten trenches of Associate cricket soon.
But the players and coaching staff alike are motivated. They want to beat Pakistan. This was always the match they targeted. They are preparing hard, as usual. They would not have got here without this relentless drive.
Today, we have our first training session at the Blacktown International Sports Park. It is a combination of open wicket practice, nets, and the bowling machine.
Harshal Pathak uses the ‘Sidearm’ and delivers continuously for over two hours out in the middle. He tells me he has delivered more than 700 ‘Sidearm’ balls in a single session with the Maharashtra Ranji team. That is the equivalent of 100 overs.
The focus at training is on hitting the ball with positive intent. Natthakan, Nattaya, Naruemol, Sornnarin, Nannapat and Chanida all have lengthy sessions in the middle. Sornnarin and Chanida also have a hit on the bowling machines. The others come into the nets where they face a bevy of spinners.
The wickets in the nets are green and a bit sticky, offering spongy bounce and turn. It isn’t ideal if one is trying to replicate Sydney Showground wicket, which is slow but offers true enough bounce.
Jess, who is bowling in the nets to us, is part of the NSW junior representative set up. She bowls at a good pace and chucks in the odd slower ball. She and her family have come all the way from Tamworth, six hours from Sydney, for the weekend to watch her bowl to the West Indies and Thailand.
Suleeporn Laomi appears to be one of the most technically correct batters in the team. She has a low centre of gravity and is both still and balanced when she bats. Today, she hits a number of beautiful shots – straight drives, sweeps, pulls, and scoops. She will improve rapidly if she works on her skills and gets stronger.
Onnicha Kamchomphu, whom Emerging Cricket featured in our tournament preview, as a player to watch is bowling well in the far net. She has a classical off-spinner’s action and offers natural variations of pace. If she can execute her skills against Pakistan, she will be valuable on the Showground wicket.
She also bats confidently on the back of her breezy 26 with the bat against South Africa, but probably plays one too many slog shots to cow corner in the nets.
After training, the coaches and some players head over the Sydney Showground Stadium to watch Pakistan play South Africa. The wicket is more akin to a spin-friendly sub continental track than it is to the WACA or Manuka Oval.
Pakistan are missing Bismah Maroof to a broken thumb. Still they match South Africa for large parts of the game, starting well with the ball and fielding sharply throughout.
Laura Wolvaardt smashes an unbeaten 53 off 36 balls batting at number 5. She looks a class above everyone else on this track, using her hands and long levers to play some audacious lofted cover drives for four. Pakistan bat well, losing only because of their atrocious running, and a spot of bad luck which sees captain Javeria Khan run-out from the deflection off the bowlers hand at the non-strikers’ end.
We pick up a number of useful pointers about the Pakistanis – their bowlers and key fielding placements, and who their key batters are. Our players know that Pakistan do not have a power game, like South Africa or England. They also know that they have nothing to lose.
Hopefully this will translate into carefree, positive cricket.
The odd spectator comes up to ask the players for autographs. The players are fairly relaxed about it, only getting excited when little kids form part of the autograph-seeking entourage. One guy comes over to sell cricket kit to the players.
“Give me a jersey to frame at the shop, and I’ll give you free shoes,” he says.
As I am walking out of the ground, an elderly man points to my Thailand jersey and asks where I am from. “Why are you wearing Thailand jerseys?” he asks. “Thailand doesn’t have a cricket team.”
I wonder where he has been for the last two weeks, and gently remind him that Thailand is the 10th team at the T20 World Cup. Perhaps the story is not getting out widely enough, or perhaps he just refuses to believe it.
I must note that the team enjoyed a warm reception at the Royal Thai Embassy in Canberra two days ago. Her Excellency Ambassador Busadee Santipitaks welcomes us with open arms. The food is authentic and everyone tucks in. The Ambassador has studied in India and is therefore familiar with cricket. She attends the South Africa game along with a number of staff. It is nice to have the Embassy’s tender support.
The Thailand men’s team is playing the ACC Eastern Region T20 2020 in Bangkok against Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The team has lost its first two games. The coaches, team management, and players find moments to check the scores and express their support for the team. Thailand has a small, but close cricket fraternity.
Tomorrow is our last day of training, and the players’ yoga teacher, who coincidentally happens to be in Sydney, will visit us. He will help the players get into the right frame of mind.