Naruemol Chaiwai and the future of Thailand women’s cricket

The new captain of the Thailand women's cricket team sits down for an exclusive chat with Emerging Cricket.

Naruemole Chantam Thailand

Earlier this year, Naruemol Chaiwai replaced veteran Sornnarin Tippoch as captain of the Thailand women’s cricket team. Chaiwai took the reins in all formats and will lead the side in their next big assignment, the 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier, scheduled for December 2021 in Sri Lanka.

Chaiwai first captained a national side at the ACC U-19 Women’s Championship in 2008. It was also the tournament at which Thailand won its first ever international women’s match. Since then, Chaiwai has been ever-present in storied history of her side’s rise to the top of the Associate women’s game.

Reflecting on her elevation, she says ‘my appointment as captain means I have a higher level of responsibility, at the same time as I am still improving myself and learning about the game. I see this as a new chapter of my life with lots of exciting challenges in store.’

One of the likely reasons for her elevation into the captaincy role is Chaiwai’s self-confidence, and desire to win. When I spoke to her in Bangkok before the T20 World Cup 2020, and then again at the start of the tournament, she was very direct about Thailand’s goals.

‘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,’ she said at the time.

Now when I ask Chaiwai what personal strengths she will bring to the role, she says ‘I am a confident person and I am quite expressive. I am not afraid to take hard calls and have tough conversations and most of all I have a lot of trust in myself and self-belief.’

Chaiwai plays a cut shot against the Netherlands in 2019 (Photo: supplied)

Chaiwai’s self-belief perhaps emanates from her personality, but it is no doubt reaffirmed by her diligence, hard work, and attention to detail. Not only is Chaiwai one of the best fielders in the side, she is amongst the fittest. With varying success, she has also played a number of roles for the team, from wicketkeeper and opening batter, to middle order batter with a penchant for the sweep shot.

Coach Harshal Pathak calls Chaiwai ‘Champ,’ and it is a monicker that has stuck.

Chaiwai first captained a national side at the ACC U-19 Women’s Championship in 2008. It was also the tournament at which Thailand won its first ever international women’s match. Since then, Chaiwai has been ever-present in storied history of her side’s rise to the top of the Associate women’s game.

I ask Chaiwai about how she conceptualises her on and off-field roles as a player and captain. She says all the right things.

‘As captain, I am always studying the game and trying to understand the opposition. This helps me reflect on and improve my own ability, develop plans and adopt different tactics for different moments of the game. My role as a player is focused on batting and executing the plans to achieve the team’s goals. Like everyone else, I am there to get the job done.’

Chaiwai may be a new captain, but she has long played a leadership role in the team (video: ICC)

‘Off the field, I really want to take a step back to see how I can be a good Ambassador of the game and for Thailand, and also start to give back to the community through cricket,’ she continues.

Winning is Chaiwai’s primary KPI, so when I ask about the team’s preparations for the World Cup Qualifiers, her response reveals more than a hint of frustration.

‘We had been practicing – a mix of open wicket sessions, net sessions, games against the men’s U-19 and National teams – regularly since early February this year. We also had a chance to play in the 50-Over Bangkok Premier League (BPL), which came to a halt due to an outbreak in mid-April. Since then we have just been in and out of lockdowns, which has been challenging,’ she says.

‘Through the lockdowns, we have been staying home, practicing skills and visualisation drills, working hard on our fitness, and studying footage as instructed by the coaches. As captain, I am watching a lot of games and working with the coaches to devise specific plans for certain players or teams we will encounter in the Qualifiers,’ Chaiwai continues.

Naruemole Chantam Thailand
Chaiwai plays a sweep shot against the UAE (photo: supplied)

I ask a little more about the team’s experience competing against men’s sides. It is a growing feature of the Associate game, with Malaysia and Singapore, for example, also inviting women’s players to participate in men’s domestic competitions.

‘It was a mixed bag of emotions and feelings at first,’ recalls Chaiwai of her first encounters in the Premier League. ‘At first, I kept feeling that men are stronger, they are going to bowl and run faster, and that this would be a mismatch. But once I entered the ground, it was just a matter of playing the delivery, and focusing on the things that I could control,’ she continues.

Finally, I ask Chaiwai about the growing professionalisation of the Associate women’s game, as demonstration by the introduction of professional contracts in Brazil, Malaysia, Bhutan, USA and elsewhere.

Chaiwai is congratulatory. ‘I am really pleased to hear that there is a rapid development and movement in the women’s cricketing arena.  This means more teams are looking to be competitive, which is a good sign for cricket all around the world.’

But she is equally wary of the chasing pack. ‘This will obviously keep us on our toes to better ourselves and consistently be a threat at the very top. It also serves as a reminder not to be complacent and keep pulling away from the rest,’ she notes.

Chaiwai has the challenging job of making her own mark on a side that her predecessor led to so much success. She takes the reins at a moment when Thailand have well and truly hit the glass ceiling of Associate cricket.

Whether they can smash it or not will largely be up to factors beyond any one player’s control. But Chaiwai’s experience, self-belief and burning desire to win will hopefully mean the side will be prepared for any opportunity they get.  

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