Three hours before the first ball of Sunday evening’s T20 World Cup final, there was already a sea of green outside the MCG.
Thousands of Pakistani cricket fans descended on the iconic venue ahead of the tournament finale against England, gathering outside the gates near Yarra Park.
Despite the absence of music, they were chanting and dancing along the boulevards, applying face paint, and FaceTiming loved ones back home, whether down the road or overseas.
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Pakistan supporters proudly donned merchandise, including World Cup kits from the nineties and today, with horns blaring and flags waving.
By 6pm, you couldn’t walk a few metres without becoming entangled in a comically large Pakistan flag.
A local television network tried to film a piece to camera for its evening report, only for a horde of Pakistan fans to swarm in the background chanting “Dil Dil Pakistan, Dil Dil Pakistan”.
It was an overwhelmingly joyous atmosphere, brimming with unbridled passion for the game.
“It feels like a home crowd right now,” said Pakistan supporter Azam Hussaini, whose entire face and beard were painted green.
“I actually haven’t been to a cricket game in Pakistan, but I assume it’s this kind of vibe.”
Ishrat Hussaini, his mother, migrated to Australia in 1992 but didn’t attend that year’s unforgettable World Cup Final at the MCG, which she describes as “a big regret in her life”.
“They have to win tonight,” she cried.
“We have prayed, we have blessed them. My husband stayed an extra hour in prayers so that we can win.”
Elsewhere in the crowd was Raza Effendi, a chartered accountant from Leeds, who had dubbed himself “Pakman Superfan”.
He was dressed in a superhero outfit, featuring green cricket pads, a white cape and a Batman mask, taking photos with young families at the event.
“As soon as we won the semi-final on Wednesday, I booked my ticket and got on a plane,” Effendi explained.
“I’ve literally come on my own. I told my wife that’s what I was doing, and she basically wasn’t very happy, but she did drive me to the airport at three o’clock in the morning.
“The players are box office, so the fans are trying to live up to the players because they’re trying to be box office as well.
“You will not get more passionate cricket fans than Pakistan.
“They might be outnumbered sometimes, but they’ll make the loudest noise.”
Standing nearby was another superhero-inspired fan — “Pakistani Hulk”. Large boxing gloves accompanied his extravagant green costum, with Pakistan flags painted on them.
“Pakistani Hulk is the message of power, strength, anger, and all those characteristics combined gives a message to the opposition – don’t mess with the Pakistan team,” he explained.
“Witnessing these games live in Australia is an amazing feeling to have.”
Australia bundling out before the semi-finals should have been disastrous for T20 World Cup administrators, but their failed campaign seemed insignificant as 80,462 people packed into the MCG on Sunday.
Apart from damaging the host nation’s pride, the reigning champions’ premature exit hardly impacted the tournament. It was an overwhelming success, and the South Asian community is largely to thank.
Crowd attendance at this year’s T20 World Cup was considerably larger for matches involving India and Pakistan – according to the Sydney Morning Herald, approximately half of the tickets sold were purchased by South Asian fans.
India averaged crowds of 56,555 spectators for their five Super 12 fixtures, more than double the figures for Australian matches.
Only 18,672 people attended Australia’s must-win Super 12 clash with Afghanistan at Adelaide Oval, a portion of which were supporting Adelaide Strikers cult hero Rashid Khan and his Afghan teammates.
In contrast, 82,507 spectators walked through the gates for India’s dead rubber against Zimbabwe at the MCG a couple of days later. Although the game’s outcome was irrelevant, India’s ferociously dedicated fanbase made it a must-watch spectacle.
But of course, the tournament highlight came two weeks earlier, when 90,293 flocked to Melbourne Park for an instant classic between India and Pakistan.
It was the third-highest attendance for a cricket match at the MCG in history, bettering the crowd that witnessed Shane Warne’s 700th Test wicket in December 2006.
When Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin hit the winning runs, nonchalantly driving Pakistan’s Mohammad Nawaz over mid-off for a boundary, the crowd’s roars were reportedly heard two suburbs away.
The ICC has revealed that 87 per cent of tickets sold for the T20 World Cup were purchased domestically in Australia. These diehard sub-continent supporters aren’t tourists, but rather an accurate representation of the country’s cricket fanbase.
According to the 1991 Australian census, 77,551 people living in Australia at the time were born in India. That figure has grown to 673,351 in 2021, an increase of 47.9 per cent since 2016, while a further 89,633 were born in Pakistan.
The Bureau of Statistics estimates that Indian-Australians will overtake those of British heritage as Australia’s dominant migrant group within the next five years.
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia data shows that 32 per cent of all club cricketers registered in Australia were either born overseas or to Australian immigrant parents. This figure is expected to grow drastically over the coming decade.
“You have to start to look at those crowds, and they’re nothing to sneeze at,” Rana Hussain, CA’s former diversity and inclusion manager, told ABC’s Offsiders last week.
“This has been a real flex from the migrant communities who love cricket in this country, and they’re not necessarily Australian cricket fans, but they’re fans of cricket, and they turn up, and they turn up loudly and they buy merch.
“Is this now where we need to look to?”
Some pundits and former players have proposed fanciful theories as to why the attendance at Australian matches during the T20 World Cup was so underwhelming.
In reality, the Australian population bought hundreds of thousands of tickets for the tournament – most of them just happened to be supporting the opposition.
“Unfathomable a generation ago, there is a legitimate case to be made that the Indian team is more popular in Australia than the Aussies,” CODE Sports’ Daniel Cherny wrote last week.
“To the eye test, India’s fans are markedly more passionate about their team than Australians are about the Aussies.”
Cricket Australia has already taken action – according to The Daily Telegraph, CA has offered to host a Test match between India and Pakistan following the success of last month’s T20 World Cup clash, but India’s cricket authorities rejected the idea.
India and Pakistan have not faced each other in Test cricket for nearly 15 years due to geopolitical complications and the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
If, somehow, the match came to fruition, it would be one of the most-watched sporting events of the year.