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Thailand reap rewards for investment in local talent

The team full of native players is gearing up for one of its most important games - an Asia Cup semi-final against India

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
The victory against Pakistan was a landmark moment in Thailand women's cricket  •  ACC

The victory against Pakistan was a landmark moment in Thailand women's cricket  •  ACC

Thailand found out about one of their biggest achievements in cricket while they were at their hotel in Sylhet on Tuesday. Rain had washed out the match between Bangladesh and UAE that day, which meant the hosts and defending champions were knocked out, and Thailand were through to the semi-finals of the Asia Cup for the first time.
Harshal Pathak, Thailand's coach, acknowledged the stroke of luck which took them into the final four, but said his team's hard work had achieved this massive accomplishment.
"I am proud of my team, I am really happy that we qualified for the semi-finals," Pathak told ESPNcricinfo. "Of course, a little bit of luck was on our side but I think you need to do some work to be lucky. We put in the work.
"It is a very big deal for Thailand to reach the semi-finals of such a prestigious tournament. It will inspire our team. Thailand is a country where cricket is just developing. It is still in its infancy. The cricket association will be inspired with the result."
Thailand won three of their six league games. They beat Malaysia and UAE, but it was the victory against Pakistan that made all the difference. Now, they face India for a spot in the final. The gulf between the sides was highlighted in their league game, when India routed Thailand for 37, but Pathak is hopeful of an improved performance on Thursday.
"We didn't play to our potential in the last game against India. We want to correct it quickly. We have to keep high intensity against this wonderful Indian team. The only way to go against them is to play an aggressive brand of cricket. Whether you are successful or not is a different thing."
Thailand showed that aggression against Pakistan with Natthakan Chantham, their top-scorer in this tournament and this year, hitting a fifty. Captain Naruemol Chaiwai and Nannapat Koncharoenkai have also played important roles with the bat, while 18-year old left-arm spinner Thipatcha Putthawong has taken eight wickets.
Aminul Islam, the ICC development manager for Asia, has had Thailand in his portfolio for many years. The former Bangladesh captain praised the country's vision of developing native Thai players in their quest to become a cricketing nation.
"The Cricket Association of Thailand (CAT) have always tried to establish indigenous players from the very beginning," Islam said. "They lost many matches in the early days but they stuck to this policy. I praise them for such a bold decision during the early 2000s. Other nations wouldn't dare to do such a thing.
"The CEO, Mohideen Kader, and his son Shan Kader found players from rural regions like the Laos border or Chiang Mai. It was long-term hard work by the CAT. I must give credit to ACC, ICC Asia and some individuals like [Syed] Ashraful bhai, Roger Binny, Venkatapathy Raju and Venkatesh Prasad. I used to be their development officer many years ago.
"They all helped established a foreign sport in Thailand," Islam said. "These individuals got the locals involved and made them dream of a bigger stage. It was a collective effort of many people, and the focus towards indigenous players."
Pathak, who has coached the Thailand women's team since November 2018, said the challenges of developing this team were quite basic, but the CAT had often the squad to India for better preparation ahead of major tournaments.
"There's a big difference between coaching Thailand and India," Pathak, who had worked with India captain Harmanpreet Kaur between 2016 and 2018, said. "When you are born in a country where cricket is big, you pick it up naturally by watching it. But in Thailand, it is difficult for the players to do that because they can't watch a lot of cricket being played. That's why CAT sends teams to India for high-performance training whenever possible.
"The players understand what they need to do, but they are not able to see it quickly. When I was explaining to the batting line-up about playing the short-arm jab, they knew what I was talking about but only when they came to India (for training) and trained with first-class and U-19 players, they saw people do it. That's when they got to do it.
Islam, who travels around Asia to check on the progress of cricket teams at all levels, said he is most proud of two teams from the region. "I always give example of two cricket teams who progressed through sheer performance - the Afghanistan men's team and the Thailand women's team. They have reached the world stage through only performance, nothing else. It is a huge achievement, and it will help other countries wanting to develop their indigenous population in cricket."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84