Cricket isn’t well-known in Thailand. Batswoman Natthakan “Jeans” Chantham, 25, is trying to change that. A member of the Thai women’s national cricket team and the first Thai cricketer to play internationally in a professional Twenty20 franchise league, Jeans tells us all about batting, her viral boundary save, and building the sport in Thailand.

How and when did you get into cricket? Most Thai people barely know anything about it.

In the third grade, everyone at school had to join a club. I initially wanted to join the movie club, but luckily for me, it was full. The cricket club was the only club that was vacant because people had no clue [about the sport], but my friends and I were the curious type, so we joined, just like that. A team sport like cricket seemed to be the best choice back then. 

What was it like to play in Australia during the Women’s T20 World Cup 2020?

As professional cricketers, we always dream of playing at the best venues. We were beyond happy when we made it to the World Cup in Australia for the very first time. There is a strong cricket culture in Australia, so the facilities were top-notch. There were cricket grounds everywhere, and it was really easy to find all the gear. It felt like we were finally in the world of cricket. We were so excited to compete with teams like England, South Africa, Pakistan, and West Indies, who we’ve always watched. It was one the best experiences I’ve ever had. 

Tell us about playing for the India Premier League’s Trailblazers at the women’s T20 Challenge. 

It was my first time ever to play for someone other than the Thai cricket team. At first, I was really nervous. Everything was new to me, and I was on a team with world-class players. I had to get out of my comfort zone. I was playing positions that I’ve never played before (I’m usually a batswoman). But I got to play with some great players from India, and they taught me a lot of new ideas and tactics. I experienced so many new things in the space of only a few days.

You went viral for an incredible diving boundary save. How did that feel?

During the game, I didn’t get many opportunities to bat, so I was a fielder… Every cricketer has to know how to field, even if that isn’t their usual duty. Before that game, we had lost to another team by only a few runs, so I felt responsible for every ball. “If I don’t make the catch, the team will lose, and it will be all on me.” I just wanted to help the team win. After the game ended and the video went viral, I felt strange. I didn’t know how to act or carry myself in public. I wasn’t used to all the new-found attention. I asked myself, “Can I still be the same Jeans I was before?”  

What does it mean to be a rising star not just in Thailand but around the world, too?

In the 14 years I’ve played for the Thai national team, we’ve grown accustomed to people here not knowing who we are, or what cricket is. Some people even mistake it for hockey, so we just tell them that we use a bat to hit a ball. So, of course, we’re happy when people understand what it is we do and support us, but I have to admit that I’m not used to having fans around the world following me or the team. But we play cricket because we love to play, not because we want to be famous. All the money and exposure are made possible because of our love for the sport, competition, and camaraderie, and the desire to improve.

What does Thailand need to do for cricket to grow here?

If it’s right now, then Covid is really affecting things for the worse, because practices and competitions have to be postponed because they usually happen abroad. Skill-wise, our team needs to improve our batting, and we need to have more mental strength. For the sport to grow, we need a stronger cricket culture to get people engaged with it. 

What do you expect Thailand cricket to achieve in the coming years?

We have a bright future ahead of us. In the near future, we want our team to achieve ODI status (a form of international ranking for cricket teams) to compete with world-class teams in the World Tour, and we’ll keep working to help the sport be more well-known here.  
Images courtesy of Natthakan “Jeans” Chantham / Cricket Association of Thailand