At 4:17pm on a chilly afternoon at a ground that hugs the mouth of the River Tay as it disappears into the North Sea, Sornnarin Tippoch wore a tense look. She stood in front of the Thailand team tent, grimacing, arms crossed in front of her chest, shouting words of encouragement to Nattaya Boochatham as the batter walked out to the middle.
As Boochatham took guard against Papua New Guinea in Thursday's semi-final at the Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier, Thailand needed just four runs off four overs with eight wickets in hand. Why the fuss then, a casual observer might wonder. But for the team, the ensuing moment in which Boochatham struck the winning single to book a place at next year's T20 World Cup - the first time in Thailand's history - in Australia was the culmination of 12 years of toil, fighting adversity and, most of all, perseverance leading to what Tippoch later described as "a big step in my life".
Though September 5, 2019 was a history-making day at Forfarshire Cricket Club - preserved for posterity in front of live TV cameras by a handful of accredited photographers and a few hundred others with their mobile phones - a far more historic but less-easily-remembered occasion took place on July 12, 2007 in Johor, Malaysia. Tippoch and Boochatham remember it well. They are the only two players from the team that played that day, Thailand's first international match, and were bowled out for 40 by Nepal. Extras top-scored that day with 16, nobody with a bat in her hands got into double-figures.
Over the next few days, '40' was a constant and cruel reminder for Thailand and Sornnarin of the challenge she was faced with if she wanted to stay in for the long haul. They were 40 all out to Hong Kong in their next match, then the same against Malaysia too. Tippoch, 21 then, was the captain from day one, and 20-year-old Boochatham right alongside her in the middle order, both taking their lumps at a time when the dream of going to a World Cup was hardly imaginable.
"We've achieved something that nobody really gave us a chance for, to come this far," a beaming Tippoch told ESPNcricinfo on Thursday in Dundee. The tears of joy had dried up by then after having poured out once Boochatham scampered a single off a full toss clipped through midwicket. "I'm extremely happy because what we've been waiting for, working hard for, and planning for the last year or two, the dream has finally become a reality."
Unknown to the opposition in Malaysia back in 2007, Tippoch and Boochatham had become sponges, soaking up anything and everything they experienced. When Thailand took the field again 24 months later, their regional opponents soon discovered that Tippoch, Boochatham and Co. had processed their lessons at warp speed. Six straight wins over Singapore, Qatar, Bhutan, Iran, Nepal and China put them into the ACC Women's T20 final, where they lost to Hong Kong by four runs chasing a target of 106. Tippoch scored 37 from No. 3 and Thailand's women's cricket locomotive was beginning to gain steam, and more talent too.
Foremost among them on the bowling side is Chanida Sutthiruang. Coming up through the Under-19 programme, Sutthiruang made her senior debut in 2012 against Pakistan and has been a constant presence over the last seven years, leading the attack with her prodigious new-ball swing. It's players like her that attracted Harshal Pathak, the Indian coach who is credited with developing Harmanpreet Kaur from talented youngster to superstar, to take up the Thailand women's team job in November last year.
"I found out that they're a talented bunch," Pathak told ESPNcricinfo after Thailand's win over PNG. "What I had found was that their fielding was excellent. Even before I joined, they were a very good fielding unit. They were a good bowling unit and had a lot of talent in bowling. The thing I worked on most was the batting aspect.
"We wanted to be more consistent and every time we wanted to look to get to 130-plus in the 20 overs so that was what we worked on tactically. There's been a drastic improvement. Also, we worked on tactics with field placings. They were good at bowling but we straightened out plans, how to bowl to a certain batter having plans with field settings."
Thailand had made three previous trips to the Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier, in 2013, 2015 and 2018. But since beating Netherlands in their second match of the tournament in 2013, they had lost seven straight group stage matches, mainly due to their inability to demonstrate consistency with the bat. Pathak's arrival has helped bring discipline to that element of their game and, in turn, has allowed their bowling and hyper-aggressive fielding to put pressure on the opposition, a key factor in their record-setting 17-win streak that began in the losers' bracket at last year's qualifier in the Netherlands.
A cursory glance at the teams Thailand have beaten to build their streak might bring about some eyerolls. They have dominated regional competition regularly since 2009, but it's hard to explain away their string of wins over Scotland, Netherlands and Ireland in a quad series held in the Netherlands last month before the streak was finally snapped by Scotland in a last-ball win chasing 124. Their confidence had grown exponentially leading into the qualifier in Scotland and advancing to the T20 World Cup in Australia became a distinct possibility.
"From January, we had a plan with the number of matches we wanted to play," Pathak said. "We had a very progressive build-up. We were pretty confident about doing well because we had plans in place and we had gotten better in executing those plans."
Still, they had experienced nothing but failure at the previous qualifiers. But everything started coming together from day one here.
In a rain-reduced match to nine overs, Pathak's focus on batting improvement was on full display as openers Nattakan Chantam and Naruemol Chaiwai produced an unbroken 76-run stand. Then it was time for Sutthiruang to work her magic. She only needed two balls to bowl Dutch opener Sterre Kalis, who has been a member of the Queensland state team in Australia. Sutthiruang took two more wickets to finish with 3 for 5 in a Player of the Match performance as Thailand trounced Netherlands by 30 runs.
Wins over Namibia and Ireland clinched first place in Group B for Thailand to set up their showdown with PNG in the semis. Sutthiruang was front and centre on this occasion too, taking 2 for 15 to put her on a tournament-best 12 wickets. She came into this week determined to right the wrongs of Thailand's previous appearances and now has a chance to meet and play against her idol, Ellyse Perry.
"It's a long time waiting," Sutthiruang said. "We've been in this position four times. This time it's really happening for us going to Australia. I'm very happy."
Nobody could have been happier than Tippoch, though. The 33-year-old hasn't forgotten anyone or anything along the way. That includes the pitch. As is their custom, Tippoch and her Thailand team-mates bow to the field after every match to give thanks to the game, a gesture that earned them many admirers well before arriving in Dundee but has warmed the hearts of spectators braving the blustery, cold conditions at Arbroath and Forfarshire this week.
"Just culturally what we do, being courteous, being respectful, it influences the style of cricket that we play," Tippoch explained. "We play it in the spirit of the game."
Raised in Buri Ram province 400 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, Tippoch picked up the game after coming to the capital. It is no longer just a passion but a career as well. Tippoch, Sutthiruang and four others are fully contracted players and employees in the Thailand set-up, doing coaching and development work when not playing matches. Tippoch's journey, in time and distance travelled, is extraordinary. She and her colleagues took a giant step forward on Thursday, but even bigger strides are in store next February down under.
"Thank you to everyone involved, everyone back home," Tippoch said. "Staff, administration, everybody. I've spent half my life playing cricket and to get to this point is a really big achievement. We aspire to become better and also compete and show people on the global stage that we can play this sport."