In Thailand, The Women Live Up To Expectations That Are Too High > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Thailand Women live up to lofty expectations
For those who have not kept a close eye on women's cricket below the top tier, there will be an eye-catching inclusion when the draw for the Women's T20 WC rolls around. For the first time in their history, Thailand have qualified for a top-tier ICC tournament.
A clinical 8-wicket victory against Papua New Guinea in the semi-final of the ongoing Women's T20 WC Qualifier at Aberdeen, yet for those who have been paying attention, it was far from surprising. In fact, perhaps more remarkably, Thailand were solid favourites to qualify before the tournament even began.
They had topped the table in a quadrangular series against the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland at Deventer immediately befor the Qualifier, putting paid to the suggestion that they might not fare so well outside of Asia.
Their only loss in the Netherlands came in a knife-edge last-ball thriller against the Scots, which brought an end to a 17-match winning streak - a world record in T20 Internationals. They had gone unbeaten in regional qualifying, cruising past more-established Associates such as Nepal and the UAE to finish six-from-six with a faintly ridiculous net run rate of +3.27. Thailand, in short, were on a roll.
Seventeen wins on the trot is a remarkable streak of course, but it's not quite fair to say that that this Thai team have come from nowhere. They recorded their first win over a full member back in 2013, restricting Zimbabwe to 85-6 at the WT20 Qualifier Shield Final in Dublin and an unbroken 49-run opening stand between keeper-bat Pundarika Prathanmir and skipper Sornnarin Tippoch before the rain seeing them to a 25-run win on Duckworth-Lewis.
But they would wait five years for their next, a dramatic last-ball four-wicket win over Sri Lanka at last year's Asia Cup, both achieved before they had even achieved full international status. Their third, fourth and fifth full member wins all came against Ireland over the last month.
They may well notch a fifth when they meet Bangladesh in the final on Saturday. Ahead of their first match in Scotland, which would prove an emphatic if rain-affected win over the Dutch, team manager Shan Kader told Emerging Cricket "We look forward to winning the tournament," and so they very well may.
Yet if their recent run of form meant their performance in Scotland over the last week was far from surprising, the achievement has nonetheless been remarkable. The Netherlands, though still looking to arrest a long, slow decline in the women's game, are a former Test nation and one-time World Cup quarter-finalists. Ireland are a full member side with a solid international record, and the current Scotland side are arguably stronger than both. If cricket remains a somewhat marginalised sport in the three European countries, the game is nonetheless long-established.
Thailand women played their first international barely more than a decade ago, Tippoch led that side, as she has in all but three of their matches since. And as long-time Associate journalist Andrew Nixon pointed out on his Twitter account, Nattaya Boochatham, who hit the winning runs against PNG, hasn't missed a single one. Their rise has few parallels in the history of the game, even Afghanistan's precipitious ascent through the ranks in the men's game built in large part on a side that learned their cricket in neighbouring Pakistan.
Thailand's achievement is by contrast almost entirely endogenous, the original team back in 2007 largely recruited from local softball leagues, as Tipoch herself was, and their success propelled by a combination of enviable investment and support from the Thai government, smart use of ICC assistance, and above all a disciplined and optimistic team ethic. The significance of the former should not be undersold, of course. The completion of the Terd Thai Cricket Ground at Bangkok in 2010 has meant the side has enjoyed turf practice facilities for the past nine years, as well as allowing Thailand to host regular ICC and bilateral competitions.
Financial support for the women's side has also allowed them to employ a full time coach on a salary sufficient to attract foreign talent; the current incumbent being Harshal Pathak, who has experience coaching the Maharashtra Ranji Ttrophy side, and whom current India skipper Harmanpreet Kaur credits as a formative influence.
Thailand were arguably the best-prepared side in Scotland, with two tournaments at home this year, and two warm-up tours to India in the past five months together with the quadrangular in the Netherlands in August, few second-tier sides in the women's game train as often or play as much competitive cricket. The result is a side that wins. Unrelentingly disciplined and savvy in the field, nerveless with the bat in hand, a team that knows its game and consistently look more than the sum of its parts.
In this sense they are perhaps unique, yet the factors behind their success should not be so difficult to emulate. Thailand's achievement this week - and it is worth noting here that their decisive semi-final victory came against the equally-unheralded Papua New Guinea - serves to illustrate just how fluid the heirarchy in women's cricket has become, at least outside of the top five, and how independent of the men's game.
The Thailand men's team have never come close to matching the achievements of the Thai women, failing to gain a foothold on the global qualification ladder of the World Cricket League over the past decade, even back when it was an eight-division affair.
The link between the fortunes of any given national women's team and the success or stature of their male counterparts, insofar as it ever really existed, has weakened to the point of near-irrelevance. Despite the women's game having come under the auspices of the ICC nearly half a century ago, and being administered by the same governing body in most, if not all countries, outside of the top four or five sides, the correlation of performance is limited.
In some sense this is a cause for concern, if not in and of itself then in as much as it stems from differing degrees of enthusiasm for parlaying the rewards of success in the (still much more lucrative) men's competitions into development of the women's game, especially amongst full member boards.
Afghanistan, most notably, do not even field a women's team. Yet from another perspective Thailand's achievement suggests their may be little harm and even benefit in decoupling the success of the men's and women's game in any given member, provided such successes are accorded equal recognition.
At Associate level, at least, that does seem to be the general direction of travel, with the weight accorded to performance of women's teams as a factor in the ICC's scorecard grant increasing even as on-field performance in general is de-emphasised. Conversely, Thailand may yet become a pioneer of a women-first model of development, where international on-field success for women pulls both girls and boys into the game, and eventually drives progress in the men's game too.
For Sornnarin Tippoch and her side though, such concerns are for another day. After all, they still have a final to win on Saturday, and then a World Cup to worry about.
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