Exclusive Interview : “It’s a great opportunity to learn from Smriti Mandhana,” says Natthakan Chantham

She is the only Thai player to feature in this year’s Women’s T20 Challenge. An aggressive opening bat, she is a young and promising cricketer. The 24-year-old has already played 38 T20Is for Thailand and is one of the key members of the national side. She also became the first thailand player to score an international half-century in T20 World Cup earlier this year. 

In her recent chat with Female Cricket, Natthakan takes us back to her initial cricket days, throws more light on the current state of Thailand Cricket, and how it has evolved in the last 8-10 months. She also expressed her excitement about the upcoming Women’s T20 Challenge in UAE. 

 

Female Cricket interviews Natthakan Chantham
Female Cricket interviews Natthakan Chantham

 

Excerpts from the interview

How have you kept yourself busy during the lockdown?

I got a chance to spend time during the lockdown with my family at my hometown in Chiangmai, the northern part of Thailand. This time was the longest time I’ve spent with them since I moved to Bangkok after high school. I could not remember the last time I spent time at home for longer than 1 week. I missed spending time with them and especially having my mom’s food. I also took this chance to do something that I wanted to do for so long but I had no time to such as building some furniture, redecorating my home, and decluttering my stuff. Apart from that, I kept myself fit by following my team programs. Even all of us, my team, we’re staying in lockdown, we still had to work out following the program that was created by our trainer. We recorded ourselves working out and sent it to our coach and trainer which I think was a great idea to keep us busy and still fit during this difficult time.

What made you pick up cricket?

Throwback to when I was in 3rd grade, I chose to join the cricket club by accident as the movie club which I actually wanted to join was full and one of my friends told me that cricket is fun.

That is how I got to know about cricket. As a sportsperson, I did not just play cricket, but also basketball. However, it came to the point that I needed to pick one, I decided to go with cricket because I really enjoy seeing people celebrating and I truly love the culture of cricket like in the game when the batter reaches the century, the bowler gets the wicket, or the fielder makes the runout, people stand up and celebrate the success for you which I believe that you won’t see it in a lot of other sports. It is just as simple as that why I picked up cricket.

Take us through your early days in cricket.

At the beginning of my training, I did not really understand the intention of the training to be a professional cricketer or to be a part of the national team. I thought I was just playing cricket with a group of friends. Playing cricket was just for fun for me back then. I did not think about becoming a professional cricketer at all. Most of you might not know that I was a bowler before. As I mentioned earlier that I started playing cricket at school.

In school, there was no separate team for boys and girls. We mixed the team, so the boys being boys always batted first and I was automatically forced to be a bowler. But actually, I always wanted to be a batter since the beginning. I remember that I started training with the plastic ball initially. After joining the national team, I picked the leather ball for the first time and that moment changed my perception towards cricket forever, I said to myself “I will survive.”

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Was your family supportive of you playing cricket?

Yes. My parents are extremely supportive, even though they have no idea about cricket. For them, cricket means having a wooden bat to hit the plastic ball. That’s it. When I was young and played as a bowler, my mom only knew that I needed to take the 3 wood sticks down. Since I started playing cricket which now requires to have weekly training, my parents are happy, they do not complain and sometimes even accompany me to the ground. Even I needed to shift to Bangkok for the training at such a young age, they always respected my decision and let me choose my own path which I am very lucky and truly grateful for.

Tell us about the domestic structure of cricket in Thailand.

We now have a cricket team in every region in Thailand and we expect that there will be more and more cricketer in Thailand in the future as the Cricket Association of Thailand plans to have more tournaments around the country. So, cricket will eventually become more popular in Thailand.

Did you always want to be an opening bat?

Yes, I always wanted to open the innings because of the sheer love for batting.

Who is your role model?

Virat Kohli, I think he is a classic cricketer.

What does it take to be a good opening bat?

I think a good opening bat needs to follow the team plan and try to implement whatever we have practiced, not do anything out of the plan. Then, you just need to get the job done.

Which is the one bowler that you find it difficult to face?

Anya Shrubsole because she picks up a very good length and line. She can read the batter pretty quickly. She always looks hungry for wickets.

You made your T20 debut for Thailand in 2018 at just 22 years of age. Did you expect to get into the national side at such a young age?

No. I did not expect it at all. I did not even know that the cricket Thailand national team exists.

In your 38 T20Is so far, you have three half-centuries, one of which came against Pakistan in the World T20 this year. Can you tell us about that innings?

Before this match, I got to watch the game of South Africa against Pakistan. I saw Marizanne Kapp hit Pakistan’s bowler confidently, fearlessly with a lot of intent and the right attitude. That was great learning for me. I took advantage of what I’ve seen from Kapp’s performance implementing it into my plan. I must say it was Marizanne Kapp who inspired me to play that confident knock.

Just before the World T20 in Australia, you had a month-long camp in Pune. Tell us more about that.

It was the first time we got to train with the Indian men teams which consist of a lot of high-quality bowlers. The speed of the ball was very fast and accurate. During my first few weeks at the camp, I could not even hit the ball. To be honest, I was scared at the beginning but after a few weeks, I adapted to that speed of the ball and felt more comfortable. Additionally, I am very impressed by the culture of cricket in India. The people are very supportive and are willing to help wherever possible. Everyone has great insights into the game. Besides, In Pune, it has a really nice turf pitch which I really like. I can say that this camp has been one of the greatest experiences to absorb authentic cricket culture.

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Nattakan Chantam
Nattakan Chantam and Nattaya Boochatam. Pic Credits: ICC

 

How was the experience of playing World T20, considering the fact that it was Thailand’s maiden appearance?

I am proud that our team represents our country to the world. In a tiny country like ours where cricket is not quite popular, I am proud of the girls who put in so much effort to reach where they are today. It was a great opportunity to play against some of the World-Class teams.

You ended up as the leading run-scorer for Thailand with 103 runs in four innings. How did you prepare yourself for the mega event?

I am very new to this level of the game. So, there were a lot of mental aspects that I needed to prepare. However, I took the team plan as my first priority.

What was the key learning from the tournament?

I’ve learned that in the game at this level I being an opener, need to have a lot of intent, and learn how to get the job done and make the team win.

How has the perception of women’s cricket changed in Thailand after the World Cup?

Everyone in the team now believes in themselves that we can reach a world-class level. After the world cup, everyone is motivated to be a better player. So, everything seems possible now.

Thailand Women's Cricket team. Pic Credits: ICC
Thailand Women’s Cricket team. Pic Credits: Twitter

 

On the back of your good performances, you have been picked up for the Women’s T20 Challenge. How did you feel when this news was broken to you?

When I first heard the news, I still could not believe it because I never thought that I would be chosen. I am very thrilled to get this opportunity, yet nervous at the same time. Thanks to my coach, Harshal Pathak, He arranged extra intensive training for me in order to get me ready and be more confident about this tournament.

You will be playing under the leadership of Smriti Mandhana, another dashing opener. How excited are you to rub shoulders with some of the best in the business?

I am very excited. I always wanted to see how Smriti Mandhana will lead the team and how she goes about opening the batting. As I am also an opener, I believe this is a great opportunity to learn from her.

How do you see yourself growing as a cricketer?

I would like to see myself and the team playing every World Cup and to be a great opener who is able to lead the Thailand team to build a strong batting side.

What is your message to the young and budding women cricketers in Thailand?

Keep training, believe in yourself, and Enjoy the cricket.

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