The association's push for homegrown talent has proven fruitful, and the team is slowly but surely progressing
Every time it finishes a cricket match the Thailand Women’s team walk up to the sightscreen and with folded hands bow down together as a mark of respect to the ground. Impressed with this touching act, Veda Krishnamurthy joined it in its ritual after India Women’s nine-wicket win in a Group A clash at the Colombo Cricket Club recently.
“We want to say thank you to cricket, to the ground and to the facilities,” Sornnarin Tippoch, the captain, tells Wisden India. “It is because of cricket that we have come so far to represent our country in an international competition.”
Thailand has so far lost both its matches against India and Zimbabwe Women, but it has won many hearts with the way it has carried itself in its first-ever 50-over competition. It has focussed on soaking up as many lessons about the game as possible.
“We play a lot of Twenty20 cricket, so our aim on this tour is to show as much patience as we can,” says Janak Gamage, the former Sri Lanka cricketer and Bangladesh Women coach who is now in charge of Thailand. “We are quite competitive in the Asian region against teams like Nepal, Hong Kong and China (they won five of their six matches to top the Asian Qualifiers table last year), but the real challenge is against the bigger teams where our aim is to bat out 50 overs. This trip is a great learning opportunity for the girls.”
It showed significant progress against Zimbabwe at the Mercantile Cricket Association Ground on Friday (February 10) after being dismissed for 55 in 29.1 overs against India in the opening game.
It picked up a wicket with the first ball of the match against Zimbabwe, and then Tippoch took an outstanding one-handed diving catch to her right just inches above the ground at mid-off. It featured as one of the top moments of the day. Chasing 192, it hit a four and a six in the first over, and then showed super grit through Tippoch’s 50 to bat till 47.3 overs. Tippoch and Naruemol Chaiwai added 55 runs for the seventh wicket at over four an over to ensure that the defeat margin was just 36 runs.
In the team's next encounter, with Ireland, Thailand was faced with a 219-run target. Considering this was only its third 50-over game, the chase was bound to prove difficult. But, like in the game against Zimbabwe, it showed a decent fight once again with the bat and fell short by only 46 runs.
Gamage says that things will only get better with more awareness. “They don’t see much cricket on television back home,” he adds. “The plan is to start an inter-university tournament for women to spot more talent. Cricket’s aim [is] to be as popular as volleyball.”
At an individual level, someone like Suleeporn Laomi, the teenaged-legspinner, has been an inspiration too. She was a part of the Sydney Thunder Women development squad in the 2015-16 Women’s Big Bash League as a part of the rookie programme, which is a collaborative effort between International Cricket Council and Cricket Australia.
Exposed to a better cricket environment, she put her learning to use against Pakistan Women in a Asia Cup T20 game last year at home to finish with impressive figures of 3-0-9-3.
“Earlier she used to just bowl, now she thinks about her cricket,” says Tippoch who accompanied her strike bowler during that trip to Australia. “She has been a positive for us. She wants to do well against better teams. She comes from a different village from the north who are known for their hard work.”
Commitments outside of sports mean that practice sessions at the Asian Institute of Technology Ground and Thailand Cricket Ground, both in Bangkok are not always structured. But the biggest positive for women’s cricket in Thailand is that the senior and age-group teams are completely ethnic, which is not the case with the men’s teams yet.
Mohideen Kader, the Chief executive of Cricket Association of Thailand (CAT), tells that the aim now is to target more provinces in order to identify more talent.
“Cricket used to be an expat game, now we are pushing to make it an ethnic sport,” says Kader. “We have got about 21 provinces playing cricket and the government recognised us is 2008. So now cricket is a part of the national games and the national youth games, which is totally funded by the government.
“We have also started a new programme involving target squads,” he adds. “They go around the country picking up boys and girls who show talent. They promise stay and education in the academy in Bangkok. So, that is how the cricketing habit is born. The main problem is building a cricket culture and getting sponsors as we have to supply equipments to the provinces. The Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifiers helped a lot as Thai newspapers and Thai TV covered it. Hopefully more Thai kids will take up cricket.”
Apart from the two grounds in Bangkok and the one at Chiang Mai Lanna Cricket Club, CAT has developed Thai coaches, with six of them of being women, and have also sent training squads to Andhra Cricket Association in India. It also aims to build one academy each in five regions by 2020.
While the association continues to do its bit, the players have ensured that those who saw them in Colombo don’t forget them easily.
(With inputs from Karunya Keshav)