Group B Preview: Thailand’s form and Ireland’s lack of it give Group B a competitive look

Walt Disney had once said, “Curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

It is not curiosity that will make Ireland, Thailand, Netherlands and Namibia take the field on Saturday (August 31). It is, however, the quest to feature in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup early next year Down Under that will be the driving force.

The Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers to be played in Scotland between August 31 and September 7 is the way by which two of the eight teams participating can make it to the global tournament in Australia. The sides are divided into two groups and the aforementioned teams together make Group B of the Qualifiers.

Quite expectedly, based on records, experience and ‘cricket culture’, Ireland is the team to beat. Despite the retirement of Isobel and Cecilia Joyce, Claire Shillington and Ciara Metcalfe after the last Women’s World T20 in 2018, Ireland’s stocks look filled and ready to go. Gaby Lewis, Kim Garth, Celeste Raack and the likes have done well to carry the side forward.

In the Women’s T20I Quadrangular series played in Netherlands earlier this month, Ireland didn’t have a particularly good time, though. They had two wins and three losses to show for their efforts, while one match was washed out. Lewis, with 180 runs, was the leading run-getter in the competition.

Laura Delany will be captaining Ireland in the tournament. The team is here by virtue of having qualified for the previous T20 World Cup in the Caribbean. “It’s always exciting playing in these tournaments with the prospect of what lies ahead should we qualify. I think it will be a tough test for us as a squad but we can’t wait to get started,” said Delany.

“At the moment our focus is getting out of the group stage, we’ve had a couple of tough games against Thailand but I am hopeful we will put that right come the qualifiers.”

Delany’s awareness and hence, cautiousness, about Thailand is not entirely out of place. Beginning in August 2018, Thailand won 17 consecutive T20Is – a record they now own, having surpassed Australia’s previous number of 16 wins on the trot. The run came to an end earlier this August at the hands of Scotland.

In the Women’s T20I Quadrangular series that they played in the lead-up to the Qualifiers, Thailand had won five matches and lost just one, thus winning the competition. Nattakan Chantam was their best performer with the bat, while Onnicha Kamchomphu was the leading wicket-taker in the competition with nine scalps to her name, including a hat-trick.

Skipper Sornnarin Tippoch sounded confident as she said, “We have worked hard all year, planned well and grown with positive intent and play with good intensity. We will make one of those ICC Women’s T20 World Cup spots Thailand’s.”

Netherlands bore the brunt of Thailand’s dream run, as they were decimated twice in the Quadrangular series. They failed to notch up a single win in the series. More recently, they were defeated in the one-off T20 by Bangladesh. Have they got into the losing habit?

“We are here to compete and play some good cricket and in the end you never know in T20 cricket what could happen,” said captain Juliet Post ahead of the competition. “Qualifying for the Women’s T20 World Cup would be very special and it would be amazing if we can achieve this.”

They have in their ranks Sterre Kalis, the 19-year-old batter who until recently, held the record for the join-highest score in T20Is – an unbeaten 126 against Germany. Despite her young years, Kalis will be somone Netherlands have pinned their hopes on. She has to deliver if they stand a chance.

While these three teams have come via winning their regional qualifiers, Namibia don’t have a similar story. Instead, they snuck in to the tournament following the suspension of Zimbabwe by the ICC. They had earlier in the year, lost to Zimbabwe in the final of the Africa Qualifiers, failing to chase down a total of 116. They will now be making their debut in the tournament.

Captain Yasmeen Khan was gung-ho about making it to the tournament and talked about not merely being there for the sake of it. “We do not intend to play just to fulfil the fixtures. We have set our goals to perform well throughout the tournament, from individual, to team performance,” she said, before cheekily adding, “We also look forward to causing a little bit of upset!”

Any Namibia win could indeed be called an upset. Given Thailand’s current form and Ireland’s (somewhat) lack of it, Group B has a competitive look to it. Here are the personnel who will represent the teams in this group:

Ireland: Laura Delany (c), Kim Garth, Shauna Kavanagh, Gaby Lewis, Leah Paul, Louise Little, Sophie MacMahon, Lara Maritz, Orla Prendergast, Celeste Raack, Una Raymond-Hoey, Eimear Richardson, Rebecca Stokell, Mary Waldron

Thailand: Sornnarin Tippoch (c), Nattaya Boochatham, Wongpaka Liengprasert, Phannita Maya, Ratanaporn Padunglerd, Onnicha Kamchomphu, Naruemol Chaiwai, Chanida Suttiruang, Nannapat  Khoncharoenkrai, Soraya Lateh, Rosenanee Kanoh, Arriya Yenyueak, Suleeporn Laomi, Natthakan Chantam

Namibia: Yasmeen Khan (captain), Irene Van Zyl, Arrasta Diergaardt, Didi Foerster, Merczerly Gorases, Kayleen Green, Victoria Hamunyela, Eveleen Kejarukua, Reehana Khan, Wilka Mwatile, Sylvia Shihepo, Adri van Der Merwe, Sune Wittmann, Petro Enright

Netherlands: Juliet Post (captain), Leonie Bennett, Denise van Deventer, Sterre Kalis, Hannah Landheer, Caroline de Lange, Babette de Leede, Eva Lynch, Frederique Overdijk, Robine Rijke, Heather Siegers, Silver Siegers, Miranda Veringmeier, Iris Zwilling