I wish I could have been in two places at the same time.
I was commentating on the game between Thailand’s men and Hong Kong at the ACC Eastern Region T20 tournament in Thailand. While the country’s men limped to 77/8 in their allotment of 20 overs, news poured in that Natthakan Chantham had propelled the women to 150/3 against Pakistan at the Women’s T20 World Cup.
As Hong Kong took large bites out of a paltry target, there was a sense of disappointment at the Terdthai Cricket Ground over what was a foregone conclusion. The silver lining was that a quick chase would allow everyone at the ground to tune in for the second innings in Sydney.
Pakistan had never chased more than 139 to win a game. Moreover, Thailand — who, earlier in the tournament, had reduced the West Indies to 27-3 inside 7 overs — knew that bowling was their stronger suit.
Sadly, just as supporters for a global game begun to salivate at the thought of cricket dominating Thai sports pages it started to pour down in Sydney. The players never got back out for the second innings and the match was called off.
Despite a fairy tale that never materialised, Thai opener Natthakan Chantham turned into an overnight sensation with her cover-drive-laden 56 (50). Five out of her ten boundaries during that knock came off left-arm spin, including four in one over off a hapless Anam Amin.
Fast forward to Saturday night at the Women’s T20 Challenge.
The Trailblazers required 4 off 2 balls to register their second win of the Women’s T20 Challenge. Harleen Deol hit left-arm spinner Radha Yadav straight into the hands of Anuja Patil in the covers, bringing the equation to 4 off the last ball. Yet, Chantham, a known destroyer of good old orthos was overlooked in favour of Sophie Ecclestone. The England international tried to swing one over the leg side, missed, and could only scamper through for a leg bye. The Trailblazers lost by two runs.
While skipper Smriti Mandhana’s move to send Ecclestone out frustrated emerging cricket aficionados, it wasn’t an entirely senseless decision. The world’s number one-ranked T20I bowler often bats in the middle order in domestic cricket even if she is yet to replicate the same returns on the international circuit. With herself and the belligerent Deandra Dottin up top, Mandhana can be forgiven for not giving Chantham her favored opening slot.
17-year-old Richa Ghosh is one of the best emerging talents in the nation, so it’s hardly surprising that she’s walked in at one drop in both of the Trailblazers’ games.
What is perplexing, however, is that at 83/3 in the 13th over, Dayalan Hemalatha was sent out to partner Deepti Sharma. Hemalatha, who has been on the fringes of national selection throughout her career, could only manage 4 off 7 balls in a partnership that yielded a mere 8 runs in 2.3 overs. After Hemalatha was caught behind by Taniya Bhatia off the bowling of Radha Yadav, the Trailblazers needed an improbable 56 off the last 5 overs to overhaul the Supernova’s 146.
In hindsight, Harleen Deol, who walked out next and struck 27 off 14 balls, clearly gave the chase the impetus it so desperately needed. However, the decision to back players from Full Member nations over Thailand’s finest batter is simply infuriating in the eyes of many, including this writer.
Natthakan Chantham hasn’t faced a single ball during the Women’s T20 Challenge.
Let that sink in for a moment.
This is the same player that shepherded a shallow Thai batting line-up on that famous day in March. This is the same player that struck back-to-back half-centuries against Bangladesh and India A respectively in January. The latter of those two games, which Thailand won on the back of Chantham’s 82*, contained several emerging Indians who are taking part in the T20 Challenge.
It’s strange that in the eyes of Mandhana and the team management, these performances haven’t elevated Chantham above Indians who are yet to prove their worth in top-level cricket.
But it also raises other concerns.
Was Chantham’s selection for the T20 Challenge merely a public relations stunt designed to mute some of the furor around the scheduling conflict with the WBBL?
An entirely avoidable clash, mind you, that resulted from an irresponsible national governing body dragging their heels on the resumption of women’s cricket.
Chantham’s mistreatment is far from the only example of a worthy player from the emerging cricket world being overlooked in recent times. That the likes of Paul Stirling have repeatedly been ignored by T20 franchises makes you wonder if decision-makers bother doing any research at all. More shockingly perhaps, Kamau Leverock was one of the many deserving players to be overlooked by CPL franchises for the ICC America’s slot that they’re all allocated.
But I digress.
Whatever the reason for her inclusion in an afterthought of a tournament that isn’t really a women’s IPL, whatever the reason for that warm seat in her team’s dugout, the fact is that Natthakan Chantham only has one opportunity left to grab the limelight in a tournament that has reduced her role in it to that of an extra.
That opportunity will come in Monday’s final against the Supernovas. However, don’t be surprised if the ironically named Trailblazers continue to use the talented Thai batter as a specialist fielder.
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Disclaimer. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Emerging Cricket.