Cuttack brushes off the bad memories to fill Barabati Stadium

One of the fan zones near Barabati on the day of the match in Cuttack ESPNcricinfo

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.

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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.

More recently, in May this year, Cyclone Fani brought winds of more than 200kph in the region, ravaging Barabati Stadium. However, the venue and the city roused itself for another crack at top-flight cricket, an impressive makeover between the calamity and the match helping it get ready. The iconic clock tower, which separates the press box and the dressing rooms, has been decked up for the occasion. The floodlights that had been damaged by the cyclone have been revamped, and the buzz around the game has been huge too. This despite, the Fani-hit Gallery 7 not being opened for the public on Sunday.

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".

Further up, near the All India Radio complex, MS Dhoni's No. 7 jersey was selling like hot cakes. There were even a few fans holding up "Miss you Dhoni, Thalla 07" posters. Dhoni wasn't around - he hasn't been part of the India side since the 50-over World Cup - but Kohli attracted wild cheers when he entered the field for warm-ups and then handed out a maiden ODI cap to Delhi quick Navdeep Saini. Kohli's opposite number Kieron Pollard was also warmly welcomed by the capacity crowd when he turned up to knock a few balls in front of the redesigned clock tower.

Meanwhile, just days before the game, Sudarshan Pattnaik, the sand artist based in Odisha, had weaved some of his magic at the Puri beach to welcome the teams, and on the day of the game, near the staircase leading up to the press box, snapshots of Odisha cricket's past heroes, including those of SS Das and Debasis Mohanty, appeared.

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.