The women's domestic cricket season is about to begin, but as a precursor, an equally high quality tournament will commence in Mumbai. 7 women's teams will vie for the coveted Inter-Railway trophy, a prize that for some is as big as winning the domestic title in itself.
The women's cricket inter railways have never been short on quality. Just to give you an idea, out of the 15 women who represented India in the recent Women's World Cup in March 2013, 10, including the captain, are employed by the Railways. Even a look at the most recent India camp tells the same story: 15 out of the 25 girls draw their salaries from the Railways.
The Indian Railways has emerged as almost the sole employer for talented women cricketers since the BCCI took over women's cricket in 2006. Previous to this, Air India was the other company that employed women cricketers, although largely on yearly contracts. Bowling spearhead Jhulan Goswami is one of the few who the airline offered permanent jobs. But post 2006, when Air India no longer found a place in the BCCI's yearly domestic tournaments, the team disbanded. This meant that most young talents, whose skills were good enough to earn jobs, were absorbed by the Railways. Which also gives the Indian Railways a deep and diverse talent pool to pick from, making the Indian Railways team the team to beat on the domestic circuit. Indeed, post 2006, the Railways team has lost only one final, winning all other titles across all formats, every year till date.
Which brings us back to the this year's edition of this battle for pride and glory among 7 of India's many Railway zones. The hosts Western Railway will start as favourites, having won the last three consecutive editions. With young, high quality batters like Punam Raut and Veda Krishnamurthy and veteran Sunetra Paranjape in the ranks, they will look to cash in on any loose bowling. Despite strength and depth in both departments, the Reema Malhotra led side will need to use the home ground advantage to the fullest to stave off likely challengers Northern and South-Central Railway. South-Central, led by Indian skipper Mithali Raj, boast a strong batting line up and a bowling attack comprising 3 talented left-arm spinners, including Indian team regular Gouher Sultana. Northern will rely on veteran Amita Sharma, whose shrewd captaincy is to be looked out for. Southern railway, who finished an unexpected third last season,will look to continue their upward graph.
Even without the ever present chance of an upset, the inter railways provide many reasons for cricket aficionados to tune in to the scores,even in the week when Mumbai will bid farewell to it's favourite son. New stars often rise over the same horizon into which a glorious sun sets.