Cricket Team Players – It is January 2009. Chiang Mai Gymkhana Club has a lively vibe. The Thai men’s national team just beat the Maldives by six runs in the opening match of the ACC Challenge Trophy. It is a crucial win as it increases the chances of reaching the final and hence a place in the World Cricket League.

Twenty-two-year-old Sornnarin Tippoch is on the ground. She meets the players and staff (many of whom are still with the Thai Cricket Association today), congratulating them on a rousing victory.

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Not many people know or recognize him, but that’s to be expected. These are still the days; a time when the Thai expatriate men’s team offers the best chance of success in the minor leagues of the new world of cricket. The Thai women’s cricket team has only played twice and is yet to steal the show.

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Today, Tippoch is arguably the most successful cricketer in Thai cricket history, one of the longest-serving Associated Cricket captains and a mentor to younger women and men across the country. The Thai women’s team, now in season, is ranked 12th

Expectations are high for the upcoming World T20 Qualifiers. Thailand team manager Shan Kader was unequivocal when speaking to Emerging Cricket earlier this week about his side’s options. “We hope to win the tournament,” he said. Kader’s point of view is far from contrived. Thailand’s world-record winning streak included three wins against the United Arab Emirates, two against Ireland and the Netherlands, and one each against Scotland and Nepal.

They are quality sides with richer boards, better facilities and more home cricket, at least in their men’s programmes. Around the world, the most successful women’s teams at Associate level come from environments where there is already a lot of investment, relative success in the men’s game and something of a local cricket culture. For example Nepal, UAE, Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, Zimbabwe and PNG.

Lack of money, domestic competition, choice of players to choose from and any real culture of cricket. This realization makes the team’s success over many years all the more remarkable.

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Another feather in the cap… T20 International Quad Champions, Netherlands 2019… ? @KNCBCricket Vs Thailand Thailand Women win by 93 runs. Netherlands 40 all out in 12 overs Thailand 133 for 3 for 3 in 20 overs @ICC @ICCMediaComms — Thailand Cricket (@ThailandCricket) August 14, 2019

The Asian Cricket Council (ACC) organized a multi-team women’s tournament for the first time in 2007. Eight teams in two groups took the field in Malaysia. Thailand finished a dismal final in their group behind Nepal, Hong Kong and Malaysia, conceding 40 points in each of their three matches.

“The team sometimes surprises me with how much they can do. There is enough raw material there to beat Malaysia in the future. They were too good for us today.”

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Most of the team had been pulled from local softball leagues. The basics of athletic ability, such as hand-eye coordination, came naturally, but not much else. It was a baptism of fire for a group of girls who were new to the game and had no exposure to competitive cricket.

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At the ACC Women’s U-19 Championship in 2008, Thailand demonstrated its competitiveness at the Asian level for the first time. There were convincing wins against Qatar and Oman, but the real achievement was two close wins against a more experienced Hong Kong team and a 3.

Place at the finish line. Nattakan Chanthem (then 12 years old) and Naruemol Chaivai also made their debut in the tournament. Both are mainstays of Thai batting today.

The performance was a clear improvement on the debut performance of the senior team the previous year and an early indicator of work being done off the field to improve results. Central to this off-field conundrum was the government’s decision to recognize cricket and the Cricket Association of Thailand (CAT) in 2008. The move allowed the sport to be included in the government-sponsored National Games and National Youth Games, and stimulated a strategy focused on developing local talent rather than relying on expatriates.

Then, in late 2010, the Cricket Association of Thailand (CAT) opened the Terdthai Cricket Ground (TCG), which was purpose-built to serve as the home of cricket in the country. It had turf wickets and nets. Not only would Thailand’s women now be able to train regularly on grass, Thailand could now host the ACC and ICC tournaments in Bangkok with little fuss.

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It was also the time when the core of Thailand’s modern-day national team was formed, with Tippoch captained since 2008, while Chaivai, Chanthem and Nataya Buchethem were now regulars. Bowlers Chanida Suttiruang, Suleeporn Laomi and Wongpaka Liengprasert began to dominate at the U-19 level.

Coincidentally, between 2010 and 2013, women’s cricket in the Asian region has grown. Teams like Thailand, Hong Kong, Nepal and China have benefited immensely from regular exposure to international cricket. Women’s cricket made its Asian Games debut in 2010 with much-needed financial support from government bodies across the region. The 2012 Women’s Asia Cup was also the first opportunity for these teams to test themselves against Test-playing nations.

Outside of the major leagues, these four teams began to pull away from the rest, competing for honors tournament after tournament. Thailand’s close losses to Hong Kong (2009) and China (2010), as well as its first win against Nepal (2011), pointed to a lack of consistency and experience in pressure situations. The first title was still eluding the Thai women.

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2013 was a breakthrough year. For the first time, the winners of the 2013 ACC Women’s Championship qualified for the Global T20 World Cup (then World T20). China beat Thailand by 47 runs in the group stage. The loss meant that Thailand will have to overcome Nepal in the semi-finals and will likely face China again for a place in Ireland. The Thai women responded clinically, crushing favorites Nepal by 7 wickets and then beating China by 17 runs to claim their first senior title. Tippoh, who also scored against Singapore, was named Player of the Tournament and Suttiruang the Bowler of the Tournament.

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A place in the world qualifiers also meant more funding, exposure to teams and climates outside of Asia, and the first steps towards professionalism. Centralized training camps lasting eight to 10 weeks, along with high-performance matches against opponents such as the Karnataka state women’s team, now became Thailand’s preparation for major tournaments. In preparation for Ireland 2013, the women played matches against a number of senior men’s club teams. ACC Development Officer Venkatapathi Raju also spent time counseling the party at a closed camp in Chiang Mai. His assessment was that the side “are in good form, have a good attitude and will impress a lot of people”.

They impressed, beating the Netherlands by six wickets, Canada by 13 runs and Zimbabwe by 25 runs to win the Plate competition.

At the same time, ACC and CAT laid further foundations for future growth. For example, Tippoch and Boochatham were sent to Sri Lanka to play in Palink Sports Club’s national one day competition and were also employed by CAT as ACC Level II accredited coaches.

Contact cricket is littered with fairy tales that don’t last and others that turn into lasting reality. Thai women fall into the latter category. Between 2014 and 2019, they soared to new heights instead of faltering. This upward trajectory was the result of smart off-field decisions, favorable circumstances and a little luck.

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On the field, Thailand cemented their dominance over their Asian opponents, albeit with a pair of shock wins against a vastly improved Nepal and a resurgent United Arab Emirates (UAE). The results in consecutive T20 and 50 World Cup qualifiers in 2015, 2017 and 2018 were much less impressive. In each of those tournaments, Thailand lost every group game, unable to acclimatize to the conditions at the start of the tournaments and too often faltering with the bat.

Meanwhile, a near-perfect performance at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games earned her a gold medal and national media attention. Opportunities such as Rookie Associate Suleeporn Laomi’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) deal with the Adelaide Strikers also came up occasionally.

Importantly, the Thai women have also won many hearts with a style and approach that embodied respect for opposing players, referees and the game itself. For example, in February 2017, Ved Krishnamurthy from India was so excited to see Thais entering the view screen and bowing to the ground that he joined them. When asked later, captain Tippoch said: “We want to say thank you to cricket, thank you to the ground and the facilities… because of cricket we have come this far to represent our country in international competitions.” It was a gesture and a comment that summed up society’s maturity and understanding

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