Air-India brings off a coup

"It was a tournament which did not spring any surprise in the run up to the final.

ANJUM CHOPRA had nursed a dream — of toppling Railways in the B. C. Ganguly senior national championship. Obviously, it was going to be a tough assignment, given the nature of Railways' strength, but then Air-India too had its plan laid out. It had shared the trophy with Railways in 1998 and it now wore the crown in Anjum's first year as captain.

"It was a goal which we had worked hard to attain. We always knew we had the potential and it was a matter of getting things right on the day of reckoning. I must commend the girls for the tremendous team spirit they showed right through the tournament,'' commented Anjum.

"It was a tournament which did not spring any surprise in the run up to the final. The teams expected to clash for the title took their appointed places with Railways, on form, looking the most suited to keep the title.

The K. D. Singh `Babu' Stadium witnessed an upset of sorts. Air-India had little hopes of wresting the trophy from Railways, which had a reasonably comfortable target of 113 runs in 45 overs on the final day of the contest. But Mumbai seamer Deepali Patkar, returning from a knee injury, struck it rich and scripted a sensational win for Air-India by claiming six wickets. She may not have won the individual honours for her excellent bowling, but Deepali had played the decisive role in fashioning her team's triumph.

And Deepali almost did not play the match. ''I included her for the final in place of Sonia (Dabir). It was a gamble but then she bowled splendidly,'' said Anjum, who won praise for her tactical moves. Her field placements were innovative and showed her reading of the opponent. It was very well reflected in her ploy to remove Mithali Raj, who was lured into driving left-arm-spinner Amrita Shinde and Anjum pounced on the chance, catching the ball inches off the ground. "It was a crucial wicket for us,'' gushed Anjum.

Among the consistent performers for Air-India was Amrita Shinde, the unassuming lass from Pune. Her all-round skills put Air-India on the winning path. ''It was an eventful journey for us and Amrita played her part well,'' remarked Anjum. Also to impress was Mamta Kanojia with a timely half century in the second innings when she and Anjum, who also compiled a fifty, saved Air-India the blushes. The team also benefited from the experienced Purnima Rau, who gave valuable suggestions right through the tournament.

The win meant a lot for the Air-India girls, who had suffered a defeat in the Rani Jhansi inter-zonal final at Delhi against the same opponents. A camp organised at Mumbai kept the Air-India players in good shape and as Anjum summed it up, the strongest point was determination. "We were very focussed and determined. I'm glad the collective performance came at an appropriate time,'' she said.

Air-India manager Fiona Fernandes, a former hockey international, supported Anjum's assessment when she said, "the team spirit among the youngsters helped them win this trophy. I would thank the Air-India management for supporting women's cricket and hope they make some recruitments.'' For the record, only two players — Purnima Rau and Anju Jain — are employed by Air-India. Even the skipper is on a stipend.

Special awards for the final: Best batswoman: Mamta Kanojia (Air-India); Best bowler: Neetu David (Railways); Best all-rounder: Anjum Chopra (Air-India); Best fielder: Karuna Jain (Air-India).

The scores (final): Air-India 158 and 156 for six. Railways 196 and 93.