A FEW months ago, Thai women cricketers defied the odds by qualifying for the Women’s Twenty20 (T20) World Cup 2020 to be held in Sydney, Australia, from Feb 21 to March 8.
The Thais have come a long way in cricket unlike its neighbours Malaysia and Singapore as well as Asian cricket superpowers India and Pakistan, who learnt the game from their British colonial masters.
The Thais, without a European colonial legacy, learnt the game on their own.
Cricket in Thailand can be traced back to the 1890s when it was played as a recreational sport by expatriates and children from elite families returning from their studies in Britain.
The gentlemen’s game was only acknowledged as a serious sport after the establishment of the Thailand Cricket League (TCL) in 1971 which was later renamed Cricket Association of Thailand (CAT) in 2004.
Unlike Malaysia, which has been an Associate Member (AM) of the International Cricket Council (ICC) since 1967, and has been playing men’s competitive matches since the 1880’s, Thailand only became an AM in 2005 and its women’s team was only created in 2007.
While the Thai men’s team has yet to make a mark, the women’s team, within a span of just 12 years, achieved a remarkable feat by playing at the highest level of the shorter version of the game, the International Cricket Council-sanctioned T20 World Cup alongside top world teams.
This may sound strange, but Malaysia can take credit for Thailand’s cricket success.
Our country indirectly contributed to the growth of Thai cricket through tournaments which it organised, helping the game gain recognition in Thailand and allowing Thai cricketers to hone their skills.
CAT chief executive officer Mohideen A. Kader said the inaugural Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Women’s Tournament in Johor Baru in 2007 was the first assignment for the Thai girls — although they ended up losing all their matches.
However, the girls did not give up and came back stronger two years later where they placed second behind Hong Kong at the 2009 ACC Women’s T20 Championship at the Kinrara Oval in Puchong.
The team’s success in Malaysia was a turning point for cricket in Thailand as the government finally recognised the sport and listed it in its biennial National Games and annual National Youth Games, and began providing funds.
“After that, we started a project where we asked the parents of deserving young players if they would take cricket more seriously. When they said ‘yes’, we started two academies, one for boys and another for girls, where after a learning session, they would focus on cricket and everything else was taken care of.
“It was a successful project. We now have at least five girls and four boys in the national team while another five girls and six boys who started in primary school are now in university, ” Mohideen said on the sidelines of the inaugural Malaysian Super Women League.
Malaysia once again helped CAT take Thai cricket to greater heights when it listed the sport in the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
In preparing for Kuala Lumpur 2017, the Thai government added US$300,000 (RM1.2mil) to the estimated US$200,000 (RM820,000) annual budget and daily allowances for cricket players during centralised training.
With the funding, India’s Harshal J. Pathak was appointed for the Kuala Lumpur 2017 task and he helped improve the team’s techniques, tactics, skills and strategies.
So it came as no surprise that at that SEA Games, Thailand won a gold in the women’s T20 and bronze in the men’s 50 over, while host Malaysia bagged a gold in the men’s 50 over, silver in the men’s T20 and bronze in the women’s T20.
“We could not have done it on our own. We had a very good relationship, mainly with Malaysia, right from Karu Selvaratnam’s (former Malaysian Cricket Association secretary, 1989-2003) time and we improved along the way.
“We started a T20 tournament by bringing in Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong to play and grow together in the sport.
“The best thing is to grow together. Thailand benefits by training and playing against the Malaysian team and vice versa, ” said Mohideen who has been part of Thai cricket for 30 years.
As for the World Cup, the team is aiming to beat at least two test-playing nations after having defeated Sri Lanka at the 2018 Women’s T20 Asia Cup, also in Malaysia.
For Malaysia, with the men’s T20 team ranked 39th among 86 countries and the women’s team ranked 29th among 57, it still needs to work harder to play on a global stage while waiting for the 800 cricket playing schools (as of 2018) to bear fruit.
However, the inclusion of the sport in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (women’s only) and Asian Games in China, may serve as a launch pad for further success for both Malaysian and Thai cricket if proper planning and development are put in place by the relevant stakeholders.
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