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Big test for champions Railways

Hyderabad: Till a year ago there was hardly any patronage on women’s cricket in the country. But the World Cup show in England, according to skipper D Mithali Raj, changed the equation and it became a game changer as far as Indian women’s cricket is concerned.

The live telecast gave the players instant stardom. It was not all about a Mithali Raj or Jhulan Goswami or Harmanpreet Kaur. But it was the unknown cricketers like Smriti Mandana or Punam Raut or Poonam Yadav or Ekta Bist and many others who could be identified as big-time cricketers.

As Mithali Raj, who has represented favourites Railways for 17 long years, said, in the past a few people were aware of the national championship. “There was not a single spectator excepting the team and officials at the venue. This season will be different as such,’’ said Mithali Raj.

For Mithali, it will be an emotional feeling. “This city is the place where I learnt and grew as a cricketer. I have lovely memories.’’

But the 35-year-old seasoned cricketer has a different challenge as she leads a comparatively new-look Railways in the Elite Group A where the fast-improving Andhra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and hosts Hyderabad are other contenders from this pool.

“I have been representing Indian Railways for 17 years I have a young team this time around,’’ she said.

However, compared to the previous editions, Railways have a challenge in hand. Although they have six World Cuppers _ Mithali, Punam Raut, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bist, Rajeswari Gaekwad and Mona Mishra _ the defending champions may face strong opposition, particularly from Hyderabad.

Railways lost out on three main players as Veda Krishnamurthy, Harmanpreet Kaur and Sushma Sharma would not be there in this edition. Veda Krishnamurthy has gone to Australia for the Big Bash league while Harmanpreet and Sushma have quit the team.

But Mithali said it as an opportunity for young cricketers. “As a captain I have a challenge again. We have talented fast bowlers _Soni Yadav and Meghna, who will be in India A team.’’
Railways manager Kalpana Cardso said they have a lot of young players. “They are all an exciting lot and they have a role model in Mithali.’’

Meanwhile, Hyderabad skipper Gouher Sultan oozed confidence. “We have a very balanced side. With the return of Archana Das (off spinner) and Mamta Kanojia, we have a very good team. We also have young players. We are raring to go and we look a confident lot,’’ said the Indian left-arm spinner.

Sultana said the team has improved in fielding. “Our batting and bowling has always been strong. We have a good chance.’’

Hyderabad have a strong spin attack in Shravanti Naidu, Sultana (both left-arm) and Archana Das. Ananya Upendran is one of the hard-working all-rounders in the side.

Mithali feels Andhra can be a surprise element. ‘’They are a young side and their association has really worked on the women’s cricket. They have very good facilities and Andhra can be a surprise element in the championship.’’

In the opening encounters, Railways meet Madhya Pradesh at RRC while Hyderabad meet Andhra AOC Centre. The matches start at 9 am.


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