Cuttack brushes off the bad memories to fill Barabati Stadium
Thousands had turned up to watch India train on match eve, and the stands were full on Sunday by the time the first ball was bowled
October 6, 2015: India v South Africa, 2nd T20I, Cuttack. Crowd trouble forced two interruptions at the Barabati Stadium, and spectators even hurled plastic bottles on to the field, as India tumbled to a six-wicket defeat.
ALSO READ: Crowd trouble takes centerstage in Cuttack
A year before that, Cuttack had been awarded a T20I instead of an ODI due to unavailability of hotels in the vicinity. There have also been instances, when visiting sides have expressed their reservations about having to travel to Cuttack from Bhubaneswar, which has an airport and better hotel options.
But whenever this old-world city has been awarded an international fixture, spectators have come in droves to catch a rare glimpse of international stars.
This was the case when Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja piled up an unbroken 275-run partnership - an ODI record for the fourth wicket - against Zimbabwe in 1998.
Since the crowd trouble in 2015, Cuttack had hosted only two internationals, before the decider against West Indies on Sunday. In the most recent ODI, in January 2017, a capacity crowd had turned up to watch MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh wind the clock back with dominant centuries in a runathon against England.
Thousands had turned up for India's optional net session on the eve of the match, jiving and grooving to their captain Virat Kohli's strokes. The sense of anticipation was even more palpable in the hours leading up to the match.
I couldn't find a cab to the ground from my hotel in the morning, and after some second thoughts, booked an Ola bike. And guess what - Prashant Mohanty, the driver, arrived wearing a Kohli jersey. He kept asking me in Hindi if I had tickets for the game. It took a while for me to make him understand that I'm a journalist and have a pass to attend the game. He dropped me near Gate No. 2, were a signpost saying "I love cricket" had been put up. The fans clicked selfies in front of it. Next to it, a stall - very crowded - sold dum biriyani, opposite which was a poster, saying: "Cospro LED sends its best wishes to the Indian cricket team".
Still a couple of hours to go for the game, but fans are out in Cuttack already (and they're missing their No. 7) https://t.co/yhhzRLF3sM #INDvWI pic.twitter.com/aeaSSrUugp— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 22, 2019
Two hours before the start of the match, the stands were nearly filled up, and it was packed to the rafters by the time the first ball was bowled by Shardul Thakur.
Memories of crowd trouble and Cyclone Fani have been shoved into the background. The vibrant crowd has put Cuttack back in the international spotlight. That's what a city's obsession with a game can do.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo