Cuttack readies itself for India-Pakistan
Minutes after India's humiliating exit from the Women's World Cup, following a shock defeat to Sri Lanka in Mumbai, their captain Mithali Raj was asked during the media briefing about Thursday's "big match" against Pakistan. Despite being teary-eyed, Raj managed a smile and said, "I am not in a state of mind to think about it right now."
There's nothing big at stake in the match at the Barabati Stadium - it's a playoff for seventh place and the loser will finish last in the World Cup - but for a subcontinental cricket fan, especially in a small town like Cuttack, an India-Pakistan match is a major event.
After Pakistan's loss to South Africa had put them out of the tournament hours before India's exit, a policeman said to his colleague that it was only two more days until the neighbouring women left. But after India were upset at the Brabourne Stadium, and were going to travel to Cuttack to play Pakistan, the security personnel were taking all sorts of precautionary measures for the game to go off smoothly.
"An India-Pakistan match is always an interesting affair. Even if it's a seventh place playoff, it has generated excitement in town," Odisha Cricket Association president Ranjib Biswal. "I am sure there will be a sizeable crowd in the stands tomorrow."
Regardless of their number, the people who come to watch will not be cheering the team they had adopted over the last week. A crowd of about 500-1000 was neutral during Pakistan's opening game against Australia, and then cheered their good shots against New Zealand. By the time Pakistan played their must-win encounter against South Africa on Tuesday, the crowd had started cheering them on.
"It was really a nice feeling to see the crowd cheering for us," Pakistan captain Sana Mir said after their loss to South Africa. "This shows that when it comes to cricket, the rest of the problems are set aside. We have been taken care of very well and would love to come back to Odisha and explore the state, something that we couldn't do this time around."
After a disappointing week, neither India nor Pakistan trained ahead of their final match of the World Cup. Pakistan will hope their batsmen improve on their best total of the tournament so far - 104 - while India will be desperate to avoid finishing last in a World cup they are hosting.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo