Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Endgame : Who will be crowned Champions?

This article first appeared in my column "Seamstress" for Wisden India.


As I write this, the Boxing Day test between India and Australia is into it's fourth day, with the outcome just starting to take shape. My favourtie commentator, Harsha Bhogle, is using one of his favourite analogies, tallking about how the match has moved into its business end, much like a chess match moves into its end game. The pawns have been sacrificed, the strategies revealed, and it often coimes down to who holds their nerve and sticks to their plans better. The same can be said of the women's domestic season, where the next few matches will decide who will be crowned Champions of 2014-15.

In the Elite Division, the four teams who have progressed will play out one of the most evenly contested Super League phases in recent times. Defending Champions Railways, and Delhi from pool A will meet Odisha and Maharashtra from pool B in a round robin format in Rajkot on the new years day. All four teams come in with a 3-1 win loss record from their pools respective pools. Holders Railways will be concerned with the good form of Delhi's batting unit, and Odisha's bowling unit. Odisha, after slumping to a loss against Maharashtra, came back in superb fashion by skittling out Mumbai for 28 and then Tripura for 30 in decent batting conditions. Meanwhile, Delhi will be banking on in form openers Latika Kumari and Priya Punia, who have put on stands of 29, 86, 87* and 67 in the league phase. With the experience of Reema Malhotra and Amita Sharma to come down the order, a great start will be just the launching pad they would want to challenge for the title. Maharashtra's Anuja Patil will look to continue her fine form with bat and ball, and her team will need it to threaten the other three teams. Railways, after suffering a shock defeat to Jhulan Goswami's Bengal, will have shed their skins of complacency and will look to reassert their supremacy. Railways and Delhi will start with an added advantage, having played their pool A Matches at rajkot itslef.

In the Plate Division, as per my prediction in my preview post, Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh made the cut, along with Andhra and Himachal Pradesh. The knock outs will take place in Hyderabad, also from the new years day, with Goa and Andhra having earned byes in their quarter finals. With places in the Elite division next year up for grabs, the stakes are high. Andhra, coached by  former White Fern Maria Fahey, are the only team with an all win record. However, Karnataka, with a star stutted batting line up, and left arm tweaker Rajeshwari to boot, will start favourites on paper. But they must first get past Tamil Nadu in their quarter final. Tamil Nadu will depend heavily on Thirushkamini, who registered a ton against Gujarat in the group stage.

A close endgame awaits as the best teams in India go head to head, and followers of the game will be hoping for a reversal  in the trend of low scoring matches the group stages witnessed. As the pawns are discarded, it remains to be seen which of the more puissant chess pieces will make it all the way across the board and be ordained queen.

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