Fearless Thailand look to build on exciting initiation

Nattaya Boochatham celebrates after hitting the single to book Thailand's trip to the 2020 T20 World Cup Peter Della Penna

Overview

Every now and then, cricket produces a feel-good story. If Afghanistan men's swift rise to top-flight cricket from Division Five of the ICC World Cricket League was the story of the previous decade, there's enough evidence already to suggest the new decade could mark the coming of age of Thailand as a rising force in women's cricket.

And unlike Afghanistan, where there was a culture of cricket owing to their proximity to Pakistan and the fact that a number of their players grew up around Peshawar, Thailand's rise has been completely organic and has been fuelled by home-grown talent of Thai origin.

As you would expect, the game is still semi-professional, with a bulk of their players either pursuing education or jobs outside of the game to make a living. But cricket is slowly moving away from being a weekend activity and many girls are already beginning to take the next step up. Eleven of their players are centrally contracted, and a few others have scholarships that help them pursue the game along with academics.

Cricket Thailand needs to be lauded for their steps towards ensuring their players get the best support system, having hired foreign coaches, trainers and nutritionists. Harshal Pathak, a former first-class cricketer from India, is in charge of the group. Pathak is known as an excellent man-manager and oversaw the rise of Harmanpreet Kaur from a puny batter to a six-hitting 'Harmonster'.

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He believes such a transformation from Thailand is a while away, but is already encouraged by what he has seen. Pathak lives in Bangkok, handpicks players shortlisted by the association, trains them during the off-season in India and organises matches with Under-19 boys and women's teams of some of the southern Indian states.

Thailand players have also undergone courses to become proficient in English, understand the basics of nutrition and conditioning to help them understand the "science of sport" better. Such all-rounded learning is a refreshing change from structures that lay emphasis on playing matches one after the other.

Thailand are only looking long-term and they are here to stay.

Squad

Sornnarin Tippoch (capt), Nattaya Boochatham, Wongpaka Liengprasert, Phannita Maya, Ratanaporn Padunglerd, Onnicha Kamchomphu, Naruemol Chaiwai, Chanida Sutthiruang, Nannapat Koncharoenkai, Soraya Lateh, Rosenan Kanoh, Thipatcha Puttawong, Suleeporn Laomi, Nattakan Chantam, Suwanan Khiaoto

Group fixtures

February 22: v West Indies, Perth

February 26: v England, Canberra

February 28: v South Africa, Canberra

March 3: v Pakistan, Sydney

T20 World Cup history

They are first-timers at the World Cup. Their journey began at this time last year, when they won the seven-team T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier at home to qualify for the global Qualifiers in Scotland. That run in the Asian competition was part of their 17-match winning streak in T20Is from July 2018 to August 2019. In Scotland, they topped their pool with three wins in as many matches and beat Papua New Guinea to book their tickets to Australia.

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Form guide

Form is subjective. For a team like Thailand, it isn't about wins as much as it is about match time. In that regard, they have had exhaustive preparation leading into Australia. Since October, they have had two intense conditioning camps in India, where Pune has been their base.

Three of their key players - Sornnarin Tippoch, Suleeporn Laomi and Naruemol Chaiwai - were part of ICC's Women's Global Development Squad that played a number of Women's Big Bash teams in Australia in November-December.

Thailand also played a quadrangular series involving India's A and B teams alongside Bangladesh last month. They even managed to spring a surprise on India A, consisting three players of international experience, by posting 132 and then winning by nine runs.

They would have been in Australia for more than three weeks in their second preparatory tour to the country, where Brisbane and Cricket Australia's Centre of Excellence has been their base. In terms of preparation, they have, as the old cliché goes, controlled the controllable.

Key players

Nattaya Boochatham, nicknamed 'Fon', has been around the Thailand set-up since 2007, and is part of their leadership group. The experienced off-spinning allrounder is known for her control and variety. Last year, she finished on top of Thailand's T20I bowling charts, picking 40 wickets at a mind-numbing average of 6.17. She bowls at the outset, at the death, in-between - wherever needed. Spin has accounted for over 70% of Thailand's wickets in internationals. Boochatham also provides a calming influence in the top order and makes a good pairing with the more aggressive Nattakan Chantam, who has been given the role of a dasher.

Chanida Sutthiruang was named the ICC Emerging Player of the Year in 2019 for her 34 T20I wickets. She is predominantly a swing bowler whose stock ball is the one that swerves into right-hand batters. A good fielder with an excellent arm, she will be relied upon to lend control. She was a key part of Thailand's T20I winning run last year, picking up 12 wickets in the global Qualifiers in Scotland that also won her the Player-of-the-Tournament award.

What would be a success at the tournament?

Upsets are unlikely, but they could run Pakistan the closest if they bowl first and apply the squeeze with their plethora of spin options. As their captain Tippoch put it, success would mean playing as a unit, having fun on the field and "living every moment".