Thailand will take on Bangladesh in the final of the Women's T20 World Cup Qualifiers. © ICC

For a long while now Bangladesh have been the bosses at the lower level of international cricket. They’ve dominated the likes of Scotland, Netherlands, Thailand, and even Ireland consistently over the last few years. More recently, they have even begun to challenge some of the higher ranked teams on the circuit. Therefore, their success— despite the absence of one of their star players— in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier 2019 in Scotland did not come as a surprise.

Thailand’s success on the other hand has been a heart-warming story. Despite their blazing form over the past year, many would have expected that Sornarrin Tippoch’s team would fold on the big stage. After all, it was the first time they were coming into a tournament with realistic expectations, and the pressure that comes with being one of the favourites.

However, Thailand have stood up to be counted as a real force in associate cricket. They have downed Ireland, Netherlands and a resurgent Papua New Guinea on the way to the final, where they will meet a giant of the associate game.

On Saturday (September 7), Bangladesh will clash with the Asian Qualifier champions in an attempt to defend the crown they had won last year in Netherlands. The Forfashire Cricket Club in Dundee will see the an all-Asian final: giants versus the upstarts.

Both teams have played varying styles of cricket through the tournament— at times dominating, and at others having to scrap for a win— but like all good sides, they have found ways to come out on top.

Bangladesh have faced their share of scares this tournament— against PNG, and then Ireland in the semi-finals— but are yet to put in a complete performance. As has been the case for close to a year now— since their Asia Cup victory in 2018— their batting has been a huge let down. Without Rumana Ahmed, the line-up has looked brittle, only Nigar Sultana, Fargana Hoque and Fahima Khatun providing some solidity. Their more powerful players— Ayasha Rahman and Sanjida Islam— have been mere shadows of themselves, but one thing Bangladesh will be thrilled by, is the maturity Sanjida showed in the semi-final.

With her side staring down the barrel, at a potential defeat, Sanjida paced her innings beautifully, soaking up the pressure before choosing her moments to attack perfectly. She kept Bangladesh abreast with the rate before pulling a sucker punch in the 17th over.

Unexpectedly, Bangladesh’s bowlers have been their saving grace. Nahida Akter, the diminutive left-arm spinner has been a real surprise package. While her accuracy was never in doubt, that she has developed enough variation and guile to deceive the batters and pick up wickets regularly is a pleasant surprise. Akter is the joint second-highest wicket-taker with eight wickets at an average of 6.12 and economy of 4.14.

On the pace front, Jahanara Alam seems to have finally found her stride in the tournament, bowling full, straight and fast, consistently attacking the opening batters. Her contributions in the final will be crucial, especially against what looks like a top-heavy Thai line-up— early wickets will be the key.

Much like their opponents on Saturday, Thailand too have been a bowling-centric team. The duo of Chainda Sutthiruang, the right-arm medium pacer, and Suleeporn Laomi, the leg-spinner, have been their best bowlers in the tournament so far. Sutthiruang’s inswingers have been a revelation. She has taken 12 wickets in only 13.2 overs at a strike rate of 6.6. Her attacking approach— always honing in on the stumps— has caught many an opening batter by surprise. Bangladesh will do well to devise a plan against her— stay away from the cover drive, will likely be the way to go. 

Thailand’s batting too has been a bit of a concern. While they lack the depth of Bangladesh, they have a group of players willing to stick it out and make gritty contributions. One major worry for the Thai team though could be their lack of a power hitter. All their batters rely heavily on using the pace of the bowlers, and scampering through the wickets. If they happen to be in pursuit of a large target, their batting will be severely tested.

September 7 will likely be one of the biggest days in Thai cricket for a long time – win or lose, they have a place in the history books. However, as Tippoch has made clear from the start, Thailand are in the tournament looking for nothing less than a win.

Both teams are evenly matched going in to the final. Based on form and experience, one would expect Bangladesh to come out on top, but if Thailand have shown anything, it is that they thrive under pressure. They will no doubt be up for the challenge and keen to end this historic campaign on an even bigger high. However, Bangladesh won’t give up their crown so easily— if anything, they will want to reiterate their dominance in the global qualifiers and hand a crushing blow to the upstarts!

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