The Thailand Women's cricket team have been enjoying outstanding success this year as they set a new world record of 17 consecutive T20 international victories but nothing compares to what they have just achieved in the ICC Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier in Scotland as they beat Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals to reach the T20 Women's World Cup in Australia.
Thailand had played in the last three global T20 Qualifiers and had climbed the world rankings but they surpassed all previous achievements by winning their three group matches by beating Netherlands, Namibia and Ireland who they had now beaten three times in the space of a month. On Thursday 5th September, Thailand played the most important match in their cricket history as they faced Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals.
Just one more victory would take them into the final of the global qualifier but more significantly Thailand would qualify for the ICC Women's T20 World Cup for the first time and face the trip of a lifetime to Australia early next year. PNG won the toss and chose to bat so Thailand would have to chase for the first time in the competition, but at least their formidable bowling attack would come into action from the start of the match.
Thailand had avoided facing Bangladesh by winning all three matches but PNG had shocked hosts Scotland and so were a dangerous side. PNG's openers were tentative but they survived the first two overs before Chanida Sutthiurang once again hit the stumps with a fantastic in-swinger and Thailand took a second wicket in the sixth over thanks to a run out as the Thai fielding was once again extremely sharp. Thailand were getting on top but it was a wonderful spell of leg-spin bowling from Suleeporn Laomi that really tied down the nervous PNG batters. She took one wicket for five from her four overs and by the time she had finished her spell PNG were 37 for 4 in 13 overs and almost out of the match.
The lower order tried to swing the bat but wickets continued to fall as big hits found the fielders and more run outs followed as PNG became desperate. Sornnarin Tippoch bowled her four overs for 12 as Thailand kept up the pressure and Chanida claimed her 12th wicket of the tournament in the final over as PNG could only score 67 for 7 in their 20 overs.
Surely Thailand were well on the way to victory and could start dreaming about the World Cup in Australia? Not quite yet as runs came slowly in the early stages but openers Nattakan Chantam and Naruemol Chaiwai held their nerve and eventually the boundaries began to come. Thailand were 20 for 0 after 6 overs and the openers had added 31 when Nattakan was out for 18 in the eighth over. Naruemol was more fluent as she was the only batter to be able to score freely as she made 32 from 40 balls.
Only four runs were needed when Naruemol was out and Nannapat Khoncharoenkai and Nattaya Boochatham were there at the end as Thailand won a momentous victory by 8 wickets with 15 balls to spare. On the biggest day of their livers the Thai girls had completely outplayed the opposition as they reached a global final and qualified for their country's first ever Cricket World Cup.
Thailand Women's story of success on the cricket field stretches back to 2008 when several of this team played in an ACC U-19 competition held in Chiang Mai and then in 2013 it was Chanida's swing bowling that saw Thailand surprise China to qualify for their first global qualifier in 2013. The Thailand team made national headlines for winning gold for cricket at the SEA Games in Malaysia in 2017 but this is their greatest achievement of all.
Thailand will now face Bangladesh in the final of the Qualifier on Saturday and they are now one of ten teams who will be taking part in the 2020 ICC Women's T20 World Cup in Australia. The Land of Smiles could live up to its name as the Thailand women's cricket team celebrated a remarkable triumph. Thailand's dreams of playing in the Cricket World Cup have come true.