Thais out to win hearts and matches on World Cup debut

  • Cricket
  • Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Cricket's reputation as a game of glorious uncertainty notwithstanding, the Thailand team making their debut at the Women's Twenty20 World Cup in Australia will undoubtedly be a big hit with fans.

Just making it to the tournament has been a remarkable journey for a team initially formed by poaching players from other sports including hockey, athletics and sepak takraw, also known as kick volleyball.

Former softball player Sornnarin Tippoch, the team's 33-year-old captain, did not play cricket until she was 20.

Thailand failed three times to reach the World Cup from 2013-2018 but have taken their game to another level under the guidance of head coach Harshal Pathak, who took over in 2018.

The Thais went on a 17-match winning streak last year before coming through the World Cup qualifiers to join the top eight teams for the tournament in Australia.

Pathak says his changes have been aimed at giving the Thai team more of an edge.

"I've tried to instil more aggression and intent in them," Pathak told Reuters from Australia.

"Aggression doesn't mean abusing opponents. It means looking to hit a six, forcing a wicket or effecting a run out."

The team's respect for the game, epitomised by their post-match ritual of bowing to the field and spectators with folded hands, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

"It is to show respect and gratitude to the sport, the officials, the fans, the facilities, and everything that encompasses the game," Shan Kader, a development manager with the Cricket Association of Thailand, told Reuters from Brisbane.

"The team has practised the 'wai' from the very first match and it is by no means instructed to be put on as a show," added Kader.

Pathak says the players put respect for the game above all else.

"It comes naturally to them," he added.

"It's not that they don't get frustrated, but they have their own way to deal with it. Maybe they'd say something to themselves but never to the opposition."

The 40-year-old coach is not a big fan of net sessions, preferring to push his players through match simulations.

"For instance, I challenge my openers to bat 10 overs and score 70 runs. I also put my bowlers in tough situations -– like defending certain number of runs in certain number of overs," he explained.

Typically a middle order batswoman would face plenty of spin in practice sessions, while a tailender would be encouraged to play her shots.

Expectations will be low for the tournament's lowest-ranked team but the Thais, who begin their Group B campaign against West Indies on Saturday, plan to make an impact.

"Winning a couple of matches will be a reasonable target for us," Pathak said.

"We want to be among the top eight. We don't want to play the qualifiers again.

"We are still a work-in-progress and we'll get better with every outing against quality opposition."

Thailand has awarded cricket contracts to 11 female players so far, without handing any out to their male counterparts.

Pathak says a good performance from the team in Australia could give cricket a real boost back home.

"If we do well, it'll have a huge impact on cricket in Thailand," he said. "Even the men's team will take inspiration from us."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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