"It's my greatest achievement, I have been waiting for this moment for a long time."
The excitement in Sornnarin Tippoch's voice is palpable and it stays constant throughout our chat. It's been just over a week that the Thailand women's team scripted history at Dundee by qualifying for the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia. And it hasn't completely sunk in yet.
The moment Nattaya Boochatham scampered through for a quick single for the winning run against Papua New Guinea in the Women's World T20 Qualifier semi-final, the Forthill Stadium was a sea of emotions. Thailand had, for the first time, qualified for a top-tier ICC tournament. The entire Thailand team stormed into the ground and erupted into a huddle. There were hugs and tears and the customary bows they perform after every win.
Tippoch, the captain of the side, had experienced the biggest moment of her 12-year career.
"I was very excited, overwhelmed and wanted to rush into the ground as quick as I can so that I could hug my friends. It was very emotional and the celebrations went on for a few hours," she recalls the moment the winning runs were hit to Firstpost.
Tippoch has seen it all right since Thailand cricket's inception into international cricket in 2007. From finishing last in their group in the eight-team Asian Cricket Council Women's Tournament to being ranked 12th in the world in T20Is, the Thailand team has grown steadily over the last 12 years.
It wasn't a surprise that they qualified for the T20 World Cup. Rewinding the clock back to 2007, Tippoch reckons with hindsight that the disappointing performance was probably the spark needed for the ignition. "It's good that we lost 12 years ago," Tippoch tells Firstpost.
"It put a lot of things into perspective and really gave us the motivation that 'Okay, we've got something to prove and we've got a lot to learn about this sport. That whole period of 12 years, gaining experience, playing cricket, learning about cricket has got us to this point, where we had set our sights for ten years."
The growth has accelerated in the last year or so, which has seen them go on a record-breaking 17-games winning streak in T20Is. A lot of it has to do with the arrival of coach Harshal Pathak in November last year who brought about a shift in the mindsets of the players and instilled aggression and intent.
It was the key to success in the World Cup qualifiers coupled with meticulous planning, match simulations and rigorous preparations in high-performance camps. Harshal who has a 15-year coaching experience has been the assistant coach of Maharashtra and India women's T20 Captain Harmanpreet Kaur's personal coach in the past.
The support from the Thailand Cricket Association led by their CEO Mohideen Kader has also been instrumental. "There was a shift in mindset. The mentality to win. That was influenced by the coach coming in as well," Tippoch explains.
"He reinforced the importance of showing intent to win games. That gave us a new edge and a new perspective on how to go about the matches. You could see it in a lot of players. Even the player of the tournament, Chanida Sutthiruang, she stood out. She had the intent, commitment and a lot more drive going into the tournament."
"Harshal put a lot of stress on intent and built a lot of tension. We were very prepared to enter situations of high pressure and were prepared to handle it very well. And Our CEO Kader has been a driving force for us since the start, he's done everything for cricket in Thailand."
Personally, for Tippoch, the spark came after watching Australia and Pakistan in Malaysia last year. "I saw the professionalism and how they went about their cricket, how they trained and all that. It was an inspiration and drive for me. If I wanted to reach that level then I had to change something."
Tippoch has been a role model for the team and one of the biggest driving forces as well. Ahead of the qualification tournament, the captain had brought the team together and sent out a simple motivational message. "It's a dream we have to convert into a reality. We are representing our country which is a matter of huge pride for us. We need to hold that very highly."
It has been a long process that has finally culminated into success. Tippoch says that the rise has been a result of the 'determination, passion, commitment and hard work' of the players. However, she asserts that qualification is not their ultimate goal and that this is just the start of the journey.
"We don't just want to go there and participate. We want to go there, impress and play a good brand of cricket. This is now where all the hard work starts. We have to show we are here to stay. We definitely have our sights set on remaining in that World Cup pool."
With just eight months to go, there is a mix of excitement and nerves in the camp. The planning has already started in another direction as they look to improve on the road. Tippoch says that there's a lot of room for improvement and every player knows what they need to specifically work on.
"It's a good experience for us to go play in Australia and really put things into perspective with respect to where we are and where we have to be. This is the biggest stage we've ever played on, massive grounds, all the eyes will be on us, so it will be a good experience for us to work up the ladder."
The Thailand team's qualification has grabbed eyeballs around the world and could prove to be a seminal moment in the history of cricket in the country. Tippoch says that her team's feat will help grow the sport further in Thailand.
"It will give us the exposure and recognition that we deserve for our hard work beyond the national body and a few people who know about cricket," she says.
"Globally it's been a very big demand and everyone wants a story on us. So that would benefit us in networking tournaments with other big countries, the top eight teams. For the team, also as individuals, we've reached a milestone, it's like fulfilling a part of everybody's life."
The inspiration that she is for her teammates, Tippoch has a message for the upcoming cricketers back home.
"Don't give up. There are going to be hard times and times that you doubt yourself. Don't give up on what you have set your sights on because, in the end, it will pay off,"
Just like it paid off her after all those years of hard work and dedication.
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