The semifinals of the fourth Hockey India Women’s National Championships (A-Division) here on Saturday will see the same teams battling it out as in the past three years. Defending champion Haryana will take on Jharkhand while star-studded Railways will play Punjab.
All the teams had a fairly easy run in the league stages, further underlining the gap between them and the rest.
With almost the entire national team at its service and two titles under its belt in three years, Railways is clearly the favourite. Rani Rampal, Soundarya Yendala, Anupa Barla, Vandana Katariya, Chanchan Devi, Jasjeet Kaur and everyone have been in fine form here, and Railways is spoilt for choice. A shock defeat in the final last year has only strengthened the team’s resolve even more.
Punjab, on the other hand, has had a consistent run in the tournament this year and in the preceding years. Other than a couple of experienced hands in captain Sukhjit Kaur and Anuradha, the team doesn’t have too many big names. That has helped it keep expectations low but added pressure on the seniors. But Railways is likely to have an easy outing.
The other semifinal between Jharkhand and Haryana will be much closer with both teams being traditional nurseries of women’s hockey in India.
Also, a lot of players who had helped Haryana win the title last year after failing to make the Railways squad have turned out for their employer this time around.
Jharkhand, though, has managed to retain its core, comprising Binita Xess, Anima Minz, Poonam Barla and Ebha Kerketta. Aided by a strong defence, Jharkhand may well turn the tables on the holder.