Playing with a straight bat
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Playing with a straight bat

Muse gets to know the Thai national cricket team

SOCIAL & LIFESTYLE
Playing with a straight bat
From left, Thailand's national women's cricket captain Sornarin Tippoch, coach Janak Champika Gamage and all-rounder Chanida Sutthiruang.

Thailand's national women cricketers have been in seventh heaven since clinching the coveted gold medal at the 17th Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia recently.

Despite being played for over a decade in Thailand, cricket is still little known to the masses, making their SEA Games feat all the more momentous. The team's rapid ascension is even more impressive considering how new the game is here. They can swing that cricket bat with high back lift with as much ease as they bowl off-spinners and bouncers.

Practicing their fielding and wicketkeeping skills for what seems like hours under the scorching midafternoon Sun speaks volumes about their dedication. This is part and parcel of their training regime that offers a glimpse into the hard work the girls put in while practicing at the cricket nets of the Sports Authority of Thailand.

Muse caught up with two of the 15 feisty cricketers from the national cricket squad; team captain Sornarin (Noi) Tippoch and rising all-rounder Chanida (Gate) Sutthiruang.

Big-hitting Sornarin, 31, who has been with the team for a decade, said cricket enabled her to come out of her shell and be the confident women she has become today. She hails from a middle-class family in Buri Ram province and is a sports science major.

As one of the first players to have joined the national cricket team, she leads her juniors by example.

Sharing her thoughts on how far they have come as a team, she said: "Cricket has unfortunately received very little exposure in Thailand despite the fact that we have done pretty well in the last couple of years internationally.

"The women's cricket gold medal at this SEA Games has been the defining moment for us. I hope this exposure will encourage youngsters to play cricket and have people that have faith in our talent support us in our endeavour to become a more powerful team.

"For most of us cricket was something we stumbled on by chance. I would call it fate. I was playing softball at the time I was introduced to the sport. Right away I found the game rather exciting. My journey as a player started with wicket keeping and batting. Through the years, I continue to grow as a player by lifting my game to the next level with training and match experience. I bowl off-spin because it requires the opposition to think before they hit."

Prior to their SEA Games victory, they won the ACC Women's Championships in 2013 and 2014. They were up against the likes of China, Hong Kong, Nepal, Bhutan, Iran, Bhutan, Singapore, Malaysia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. In the 50-over event, they are ranked 13th in the world.

Sornarin, who's a big fan of Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has best score of 108 runs and her best bowling economy rate is six overs for six runs.

"I would not trade cricket for any other sport," she said. "We share a tight bond between players. Being the eldest, I take on the role of big sister. Each player comes with her own set of issues, be it problems in their love life, education or family, I am there for them 24/7.

"People often ask me if I am afraid to become an old maid because I spend all my waking hours in competing and promoting cricket. To this I say that while this has crossed my mind, I wish not to entertain it because I am having the time of my life!"

Surin-born Chanida, the national team's top pace bowler, describes herself as a girly girl character with a penchant for speed. The 24-year-old commerce major, whose top bowling figures are five wickets in four overs, explains why, saying: "I love to dress up, paint my nails and do all the stuff girly girls do, however, being a cricketer makes it difficult for me to make this a daily routine. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, it's just that this is what I am off the pitch.

"Being a pace bowler I have to keep my nails short. However, when we are not in training I indulge in the more ladylike side of me. People often ask me if I worry about getting dark training under the sun. To that I say, well, cricket is my life. For six years I have been a cricketer and for most of it, played the game with passion. Supporting the team to win is more important then getting tanned skin." The chatty all-rounder, whose favourite cricketer is Australian Glenn Maxwell, admits that the game is not for the faint-hearted. For one, she said the cricket ball is "hard as stone". She has had a couple of bumps on her head because she miscalculated the position she should have been standing to catch the ball. Scratches and bruises during fielding are also common.

The positives, definitely, outweigh the negatives, continued the spunky cricketer: "After our feat at the SEA Games, we have received fame, brought joy to our families and have a more clear direction in our life as cricketers.

"The negatives include the health issues that have risen, even though it's nothing serious. Another area is managing our time as players and students. The game fits my character, so I could not ask for anything more."

Before she retires, Chanida desires to play an instrumental role in taking the team to the World Cup.

"Six years in the game has made me realise that we have it in us to reach the World Cup. However, to get there we will need sponsorship. Judging from our past performances, I do believe we are worth taking a gamble on."

Coaching women cricketers takes patience and a big brotherly demeanour. One man who has been able to perfect that has been Janak Champika Gamage, the 53-year-old head coach of Thailand's national women's cricket team, who recently clinched the coveted gold at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia.

Having been with the team for 15 months, he has managed to gain the respect and admiration of the squad, made up of a good mix of players in their late teens, early- to mid-20s and one in her 30s.

Cool and collected, Gamage's presence at the training nets is a good example of the close rapport the players share with their Sri Lankan coach. One can hear the chatter of female voices echo while they discuss tactics with him through largely broken English and hand gestures. Soft-spoken yet commanding, he uses short, easy-to-understand sentences to pass his message through as the girls go through their training drills.

"The squad have great potential," remarked Gamage. "The gold medal shows that Thailand has talent in cricket, despite the fact that it is still not a widely known sport. Can you just imagine how far this country can go in cricket if we had more schools teaching it?

"Sponsorship is another area which is direly needed to not just promote the sport, but also to make it possible for players to get the match experience they require."

Gamage, who formerly coached and played an instrumental role in helping the women's team in Bangladesh win a silver medal at the Asian Games in 2014, is a former national player for the Sri Lankan cricket team. He has also trained cricket coaches in his country.

With a wealth of cricket knowledge under his belt, it did not take long before Mohideen Kader of the Cricket Association of Thailand invited him to train the Thai cricket talents. In over a year now he has managed to reach each of the goals set for him.

"The team I came in to work with already had heaps of talent, all I had to do was fine-tune their techniques and tactics. Together, we have managed to qualify for the 50-over World Cup qualifiers, but were beaten when we came up against strong teams from the Indian subcontinent," he said.

"This was the first time Thailand played the 50 overs. Overall the results were very encouraging, we saw two players reach 250 runs and our bowling figure of 64 runs in 30 overs was definitely a thumbs up.

"It is my desire to use our victory at the SEA Games to attract more potential players. Experience in soft ball and baseball are a plus, but above all I am looking for people with a passion for sports."

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