| Mahendra Singh Dhoni and other members of Team India enter a Bhubaneswar hotel and (below) a member of the ground staff in ankle-deep water at Barabati Stadium on Thursday. Pictures by Sanjib Mukherjee and Badrika Nath Das
Bhubaneswar/Cuttack, Oct. 24: Soaked to the bone, hundreds of cricket fans joined the welcome chorus outside Biju Patnaik Airport as the Indian and Australian players arrived here this afternoon for their fifth one-day encounter at Barabati Stadium, Cuttack, on Saturday.
Their excitement was, however, tinged with a sense of worry about the low pressure-triggered torrential rain playing spoilsport on the D-day just the way it did during the fourth one-dayer in Ranchi.
Their apprehension was compounded by the fact that the last India-Australia fixture at Barabati in October 1996 had also been washed out.
“We are praying fervently, hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself,” said Dev, a college student.
Amidst loud cheers, the two teams were driven in separate coaches to Hotel Mayfair, where they were given a traditional welcome. The green coconut, served in small cane baskets, was a revelation of sorts for the Aussies.
“This is fantastic stuff, mate,” exclaimed all-rounder Shane Watson as he took a sip and spent almost an hour exploring the hotel along with some of his teammates.
The Indian players, however, checked into their rooms almost immediately – a total of 80 rooms have been booked for the two teams, support staff and officials of the BCCI, the ICC and the Odisha Cricket Association.
About half an hour later, they made an entry into the indoor games zone. While Yuvraj Singh preferred table tennis, Suresh Raina, Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar kept themselves busy with pool.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who pretty much kept to himself the whole time, took OCA officials and local cricketers by surprise as he addressed them by their names.
“Arey, Satpathy, how have you been?” he asked former Ranji player Satya Ranjan Satpathy as he was strolling in the lobby. Satpathy and Dhoni had played against each other in an Odisha vs Jharkhand game in Agartala in 2003.
“He is humility personified. Even after becoming India captain, he has not forgotten the people he had encountered a decade ago,” said Satpathy, who is the local manager of the Australia team.
The visiting players, said to be passionate about outdoor sports, could not step out into the basketball court as rain, which had subsided for around an hour or so, lashed the city till late evening. They decided to stay put in the hotel’s multi cuisine restaurant – Teapot – and dig into seafood.
“They love prawns. In Australia, seafood is quite expensive unlike in Odisha. The Indian players, too, relish prawns. Sachin Tendulkar always used to ask for king prawns whenever he came here,” said Naba Patnaik, a senior OCA officer, adding that the players may go out for shopping on Friday. Around 45 platoons of police force have been pressed into service for the security of the two teams.
Lemon Grass, another oriental restaurant, Baron and Baroness pub, spa, gym and the swimming pool on the Mayfair property will be open exclusively to the players till they are here, said hotel vice-president Soubhagya Mohapatra.
The net practice at Barabati tomorrow has been cancelled because of inclement weather and wet outfield, said an OCA official. The Met department said there was a possibility of one or two spells of rain on Saturday.
OCA treasurer Satya Mohanty said four temporary wells have been dug up to collect rainwater from the stadium and water was being drained out with the help of motor pumps. Besides, two advanced soakers will be used to clear the water from the outfield as soon as the weather improves.