Interest in cricket has reached new heights in Thailand since the women’s team won the gold medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the 20-over format and the men took bronze in the longer, 50-over version.
It was the first time the sport had been included in the regional competition – despite its huge popularity in several countries, especially in England, Australia, Africa and in the Indian sub-continent, cricket is not widely recognized in Thailand.
Two medals at the 28th SEA Games have made a big difference to the profile of the sport, especially since the men’s team in Kuala Lumpur comprised exclusively Thai nationals for the first time. Previous teams had been boosted by the inclusion of several foreigners to make up for the lack of local players.
Cricket nonetheless has a long history in Thailand, largely played by expats in the Bangkok and Chiang Mai, although great efforts, including coaching programs, have been made to take cricket into Thai schools across the country.
The medals at the SEA Games are being seen as reward for the way the sport has developed over the last two decades.
One of the longest-lasting traditions of Thai cricket is the Chiang Mai International Cricket Sixes, one of the largest short-format cricket tournaments to be staged anywhere in the world and heading towards its 31st straight year in Thailand.
Thirty teams from across the world competed for five different trophies last time, but an equally important part of the Chiang Mai Sixes is to raise money to help junior cricket.
One of the cornerstones of these efforts is the Chiang Mai Schools Cricket Alliance, a program of school coaching founded in 2000.
A tournament for school teams has been held at the Chiang Mai Sixes for the last 18 years, and several players in the men’s team (two are hill-tribe) at the SEA Games have played in that competition.
Some also play in a local Thai team, named Thai Thevada, that plays in the main Sixes tournament each year. Spectators and competing teams alike love to see the Thai boys batting, bowling and fielding against more experienced opposition.
Cricket isn’t just a sport played on the field, it can be a way of life and a full-time career for a new generation of Thais, whether as players, coaches, umpires or scorers.
The Chiang Mai International Cricket Sixes saw that just providing cricket on the field for young Thais was only part of the story.