CHENNAI: The Indian women’s basketball team has been starved of competition. They last played at the Asia Cup in Jordan in September-October, 2021. It’s likely their next event — unless any fixtures can be arranged at short notice — could be the Asian Games in Hangzhou this September.
When they are not playing for their Indian employers, the only way they remain in touch with the game is in the national camp in Bengaluru (it goes on for about 100 days a year, give or take). They also don’t have a current foreign coach after Zoran Visic was let go by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) after the completion of his contract last year.
On Thursday, at the Nehru Indoor Stadium, one finally got a glimpse of a majority of the current Indian players thanks to a second-round league match between Indian Railway and Kerala (out of the 12 that played in the last tournament, the former supplied six players while three were from Kerala).
While Railways are traditional powerhouses, Kerala has built a squad capable of challenging them in the 21st century. Here’s a small number that supports that statement. Since the turn of the century, there have been four women’s finals between these two sides. In that time, Railways have walked away with 16 titles and their form suggested a 17th could come their way on Sunday.
While both sides traded leads early on, Railway moved swiftly through the gears to win 86-73. After the match, Shireen Limaye, who has been the India captain for the last few years, said "we (Railway) were preparing for this particular match for the last one-and-a-half months. This tough fight from Kerala was expected,” she said. “I would call this a friendly game because (I’m) really good friends with them (Kerala players).”
Most of the time, though, they team up to play against men’s teams when they are in camp at Bengaluru. With international matches in short supply, they have no option. “We can’t help it,” she said. “We play a lot of friendlies with men’s college and club teams in Bengaluru. We can’t really think about what we don’t have (international exposure). We have to do with what we have and it’s okay.”
Shireen adds that when it’s the off-season, ‘I play with men’s teams to get stronger all the time’. The other disadvantage that the women have to battle is the absence of a foreign coach but the 27-year-old said Visic has left them with solid fundamentals. “We still don’t know yet,” said Limaye, who has played netball at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Quarterfinal line-up (all games on Friday)
Women: Indian Railway vs Assam, Kerala vs Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh vs Telangana, Tamil Nadu vs Punjab; Men: Karnataka vs Haryana, Services vs Indian Railway, Punjab vs Uttarakhand, Kerala vs Tamil Nadu. Results: Men: Tamil Nadu bt Indian Railway 85-74, Services bt Kerala 88-69, UP bt Gujarat 81-63, Karnataka bt Punjab 90-81. Women: Karnataka bt Assam 80-47, Telangana bt Punjab 80-61, Indian Railway bt Kerala 86-73, Tamil Nadu bt Madhya Pradesh 87-63