Cricket's History in Thailand, by Lister Hannah
To celebrate the ACC U-15 Challenge Cup taking place in Thailand, Lister Hannah looks back at cricket's history in the Land of Smiles.
Thailand's hosting of the ten-nation ACC (Asia Cricket Council) Under 15 Challenge Cup this last 14-23 December marked an auspicious recognition of the emergence of cricket in this country.
Syed Ashraful Huq, the CEO of the ACC, stated that this event was "specifically geared towards giving young cricketers an opportunity to test their skills in the most competitive environment" and Thailand's young cricketers certainly acquitted themselves commendably.
But beyond this, the Cricket Association of Thailand, led by Ravi Sehgal, Honorary Chairman, and Mohideen Kader, national coach and the driver behind the organisation of the tournament, ably supported by others in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai, proved that Thailand had come of age as a cricketing country. It clearly demonstrated that it has not only the facilities but the capability to host such an occasion with style and success.
In a country where football, Muay Thai, tennis and golf have high visibility, it may be surprising to note that cricket has been played recreationally since 1890, the era of King Chul-alongkom, Rama V, both in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai. It became organised as a competitive sport with the formation of the Thailand Cricket League (TCL) in 1971.
lt has expanded from an initial six Bangkok teams to a present 19 teams playing in three divisions; and from time to time, since the 1980s, including a team from Chiang Mai.
Adult cricket isnow being played not only in Bangkok and Chiang Mai but also in Khon Kaen, Hua Hin, Eastern Seaboard, and more recently in Phuket. In 2004, with the blessing of the Sports Authority of Thailand, the TCL was renamed the Cricket Association of Thailand with Lt.Gen. Suebsan Darda-rananda as the President.
In the past twenty years there have been two especially significant developments which have raised the profile of cricket in Thailand. One was a Thailand-based innovation now played widely elsewhere, the highly popular Cricket Sixes; a fast-paced game played with six to a team, each team given 5 six-ball overs and with batsmen retiring after reaching 30 runs. Starting with the RBSC Sixes in Bangkok and then the Chiang Mai Sixes, a number of other Sixes tournaments now dot the annual calendar.
The other major development was the fielding of Thailand's first national team in 1990, culminating with participation in 1996 in the inaugural ACC Trophy hosted in Kuala Lumpur and in the following year fielding an Under 19 team in the in the inaugural Youth Asia Cup in Hong Kong. The greater scope of the game beyond Thailand's boundaries was being appreciated too, so to the need to raise its level of competitiveness.
The past ten years has seen a heartening growth of the game at the grass-roots level. In Bangkok there are a number of senior and junior youth teams playing regularly and six schools will soon play in an inter-school competition.
The Chiang Mai Schools Cricket Association has been in action since the 1 990s and through its "sawadee cricket" programme has been building a fast-growing group of young cricketers; and it will not be too long before a regular inter-school competition results. Khon Kaen, Chonburi and Petchabum also have structured coaching programs and regular tournaments. From this base, Thailand not only fields an adult team but also Under 19, 1 7 and 15 national teams which compete in annual ACC-sponsored tournaments.
The ACC Under 15 Challenge Cup played here in December comprised 10 national teams, first playing preliminary rounds on turf wickets in two pools. Those who played in Bangkok used the venues at the Asia Institute of Technolgy (AIT), the Polo Club, and (for one match) Bangkok Patana School. In Chiang Mai locations were the Chiangmai Gymkhana Club and at the Prem Center, home of the Prem International School. The semi-finals, final and overall placing were then played on the Bangkok grounds.
Two of the grounds, at AIT and the picturesque Gymkana Club, had recently been renovated. The ground at the Traidhos Three Generation Community for Learning, just north of the city of Chiang Mai in Mae Rim, beautifully situated in the foothills of the mountains, had just been completed. All the venues were widely complimented.
A striking feature of the teams participating was the inclusion of China. Driven by the faith of their cricket administrators and a well-placed confidence in the coaching structures put in place by the ACC, and despite cricket only having been recently introduced, they commendably decided to take part. They played in Bangkok together with Iran, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Bhutan, Brunei, Maldives, Oman and Qatar played in Chiang Mai.
In the Bangkok division, Thailand acquitted themselves particularly well winning all four matches. Close behind them, winning three and two games respectively, were Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Chiang Mai, Oman were undefeated with Bhutan run-ners-up. While Qatar and Brunei competed they were not included the final table since teams fielded by them did not conform the Qualification Rules.
And to Thailand... very well done!