Smile, aggression, and positive intent – Thailand out to conquer hearts

Thailand players celebrate a wicket during their T20 World Cup match against West Indies in Perth. © ICC

Ten good balls that create a wicket – that’s quite a unique formula for a team like Thailand coming into their maiden T20 World Cup. Known for its beautiful picturesque beaches, ancient ruins, ornate temples displaying figures of Buddha and opulent royal palaces, the South-east Asian nation have come a long way to qualify for the mega event and are already winning hearts of the fans, experts and the opposition with their everlasting smile.  

On Saturday (February 22), the Sornnarin Tippoch-led side once again proved why they are becoming the most loved team in the competition.  Despite a seven-wicket loss against West Indies in their tournament opener, Thailand captured the hearts and imaginations of every spectator who saw them in action at the WACA in Perth.

Often, associate teams who enter the big leagues for the first time tend to crumble under the pressure. However, things were different for Thailand – they showed great composure throughout the course of the game, testing West Indies to the fullest.

Batting first, Thailand, who became the 11th country (also ranked 11th in ICC T20I team rankings) to participate in the mega event, lost both their openers within the power play. But the way, Nannapat Koncharoenkai and Naruemol Chaiwai handled the early pressure deserves credit, considering the world-class attack in front of them.

ALSO READ: Thailand – daring to dream

Thailand exult after beating PNG to qualify for the World Cup. © ICC

Thailand exult after beating PNG to qualify for the World Cup. © ICC

It is true that the Thai girls aren’t used to the fast and pacy tracks like the one they were playing on, but they battled it out, sticking to the basics, playing each ball on its merit. It was the 35-run third-wicket partnership in 49 balls between Koncharoenkai and Chaiwai that showed their patience. Thailand stuttered their way to a total of 78 for 9 in 20 overs.

“We back ourselves to bat first and post a decent score on the scoreboard, as well, because we practice a lot, and it’s just the top order didn’t really click for us today. But we really back ourselves to do well with the bat, as well,” Nattaya Boochatham said after the game.

Where teams would normally lose the match before taking the field in defense of such a small total, Thailand showed great fight against the former champions.

“So we have the mentality of being aggressive, and it just takes 10 good balls that create wickets, so that’s a formula we stick to, and also we trust our fielding a lot,” said Boochatham of Thailand’s performance in the field.

They not only bowled a disciplined line and length from the outset, but also dismissed Lee-Ann Kirby and dangerous Hayley Matthews, to give West Indies an early scare. While Kirby was caught short of her crease by a Chaiwai direct-hit, Matthews – who was just beginning to find her range – was brilliantly undone by a Soraya Lateh delivery that disturbed her stumps.

Barely an over later, West Indies found themselves in an even bigger soup when Deandra Dottin was caught marginally short of the wicket. Suleeporn Laomi fired in a rocket throw from backward point and watched as Koncharoenkai whipped off the bails. Deservedly, Thailand went berserk.

“Obviously as you can see, we’re very happy on the field, and when it comes to the fielding sessions, we want to dive into it right away,” added the opening batter. “That’s one of the best points of our team. We do a lot of match simulations, as well, so the ball is drilled as hard as it would be in a normal game, so we practice according to that intensity so we can handle the pressure out there.”

Although Stafanie Taylor and Shemaine Campbelle took West Indies over the line, it was far from a convincing performance. Such was the rhythm of the bowlers – especially Laomi – that Taylor and Campbelle hardly got any chances to free their arms. The 22-year-old leg-spinner started off with just seven runs in her first two overs, before bowling a maiden to Taylor in her third, garnering much appreciation from the experts on air. The way she forced the West Indies skipper to drive every time was a treat to watch. She finished with figures of 4-1-14-0 – pretty impressive on T20 World Cup debut!

Another bowler that caught the eye was Boochatham herself – the off-spinner conceded just nine runs in 3.4 overs.

Nattaya Boochatham has been part of the Thailand set up since the very start. © ICC

Nattaya Boochatham has been part of the Thailand set up since the very start. © ICC

What their performances in the field suggest is that if Thailand had a few more runs to play with, they may have been able to put some serious pressure on West indies. However, as witnessed through the first innings, Thailand’s batting is their weakness. Their bowling and fielding, on the other hand, is exceptional. They have sent a warning to all the other teams in their group.           

“We wanted a score of around 120. We will try to get more than 100. The fast bowlers bowled short and it’s something we must learn (from),” Tippoch admitted after the match. “We need to work on areas to get the runs. Our strength is our bowling and fielding. We will try our best every day. (We) enjoyed it too much! We were waiting for this for a long time. So happy. I’m proud of our team. We will get better.”

Although it is runs and wickets that determine results in cricket, on the odd occasion, even teams that have lost the match can, in fact win more hearts. With their positive mentality and positive play, there is no doubt fans around the world will want to see more of Thailand in the near future. For now, they appear to have the potential to cause a big upset – a miracle win right around the corner.

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