With several prominent India women players shifting allegiance from powerhouse Railways, the senior women's domestic landscape in India is set to witness a change this upcoming season starting December 6.
The Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) commitments of some key players is also likely to force teams to rethink their plans as the BCCI tries to incorporate structural changes in the domestic set-up four months after India finished runners-up at the World Cup.
For decades, Railways have supported and fielded the best women's players. But the exodus is bound to affect them this season. India's T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur ended a three-year stint to move to Punjab after being offered the post of deputy superintendent by Punjab Police. Sushma Verma, the India and Railways first-choice wicketkeeper, is also in the process of tendering her resignation and will likely lead Himachal, who earned a promotion to the Elite category in the one-day tournament.
Allrounders Sneh Rana, who last played an international fixture in the home series against Sri Lanka in 2016, and Paramita Roy have also been given the NOC to play for Punjab and Bengal respectively. Bengal will however lose the services of seamer Sukanya Parida, who will be debuting for Railways this season.
Even though Harmanpreet has been appointed Punjab's captain, a likely renewal of contract with her WBBL side Sydney Thunder may lead to her missing a major part of the domestic season. One of Rana or Parveen Khan is likely to be given the captaincy.
Diana Edulji, a former administrator in the Railways and a member of the Committee of Administrators, believes finding a replacement for someone of Harmanpreet's caliber for Railways will be "impossible" to accomplish. What could further compound Railways' selection concerns is the unavailability of Veda Krishnamurthy who will be departing for her maiden WBBL stint in the first week of December.
The big vaccum left by Harmanpreet's exit could be filled by 20-year old Deepti Sharma, who earned plaudits for her performances at the World Cup. Deepti has obtained an NoC from Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association and is currently in the midst of negotiations with three teams - Railways, Bengal and Baroda.
ESPNcricinfo understands formalities relating to getting Deepti on board were initiated first by Baroda, which had incumbent national coach Tushar Arothe in the coaching role until signing a two-year deal as head coach of the national team. Bengal, led by Jhulan Goswami, too, have furthered talks in this regard, with a state selector confirming the move. "One of our senior players requested if we could have Deepti [in Bengal]; she would be a great addition the side."
Even though Railways have already shortlisted their 25-member squad and will be conducting a combined pre-season camp for the Under-23 and the senior sides from November 6, the secretary of the Railways Sports Promotion Board confirmed that Deepti's application is still under consideration.
As for Verma, the 2017-18 domestic season could proffer Himachal room for improvement as much as to herself, having got "very less opportunities to bat in Railways" due to the likeness of its batting order with the Indian side. "Playing in the Elite and facing teams like Railways will give us a good exposure," she said. "For most, domestic matches are the only platform to make an impression on the selectors. I desperately want to bat this season so I can carry that confidence into the international circuit."
Weighing in on the reconfiguration planned for the domestic structure, including the reintroduction of the Under-16 tournament - only at the zonal level- and the revamped Under-19 Women's North-East Championship, Edulji said, "The BCCI is on the right track. I'm happy that BCCI is now taking women's cricket seriously.
"Given the kind of interest the World Cup generated, I hope some of the domestic matches are televised. It is also important that good publicity is given to these matches, just the way Ranji is given. So maybe regular media releases should be sent out - and that, of course, I will be looking into as a CoA member."