The presence of internationals Vishesh Bhirguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh in the Uttarakhand team had raised a controversy and brought in protests from Railways at basketball's Senior National in Chennai in December.

Now we know why.

The two, who quit Western Railway and joined the ONGC, have now made the oil and gas major a strong combination. The ONGC is on a winning run and is the favourite to win the 26th Federation Cup which begins at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium here on Wednesday.

“We won all-India tournaments at Guwahati, Athirampuzha (near Kottayam) and the Savio Cup in Mumbai recently,” said Murali Krishna, the ONGC captain.

Prakash Mishra, the captain of defending champion Western Railway, also admitted that things would be difficult without the two stars. Vishesh Bhirguvanshi had been the top scorer for W. Railway in the final last year at Raipur.

Teams awestruck

Almost all the teams including IOB, which lost to W. Railway by just one point last year, and Kochi's Customs and Central Excise appeared to be awestruck after watching ONGC's training sessions here the last couple of days.

But Punjab Police, which has almost half the Punjab team which won the men's National title in Chennai, feels ONGC is beatable.

ONGC defeated Punjab by nearly 20 points in the Savio Cup in Mumbai in mid-January. “But we missed so much free shooting there,” said Gurkirpal Dhillon, the Punjab Police coach. “We missed so many three-pointers.”

He said his team, which includes Indian captain Jagdeep Singh, has been working on this area after the Savio Cup.

Meanwhile, Southern Railway appears to be the favourite in the women's section.

The team, which includes internationals Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Pauldurai, will be reaching Kochi only on Tuesday morning along with Tamil Nadu.

Delhi, which includes current internationals Akanksha Singh and Pratima Singh and former India player Prashanti Singh, is expected to top its group (B) after the league phase and meet Southern Railway in the final.

Chhattisgarh, the defending champion and National silver medallist, is without its stars Bharti and Pushpa and this has weakened the team to some extent.

The Federation Cup features the champion clubs of the top eight men's finishers of the 61st Senior National championship held in Delhi early last year.

The women's event will virtually be an inter-State affair with the exception of Southern Railway.

The groupings: Men: Group A: Western Railway (Indian Railways), Customs & Central Excise (Kerala), IOB (Tamil Nadu), Hyderabad District (AP).

Group B: Air Force (Services), Punjab Police (Punjab), ONGC (Uttarakhand), Bhilai Steep Plant (Chhattisgarh).

Women: Group A: Southern Railway, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh. Group B: Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh.

Keywords: Federation Cup

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