Nothing bonds the Indians and the Australians better than their mutual passion for cricket. With cricketing ties with Pakistan reduced drastically in the last quarter of a century, Australia has emerged as India’s chief rival and their encounters get the nation’s fans increasingly excited.
What the world witnessed on October 23 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has left no doubt about the extent to which the Indian fans would go to support their team. Though it was an India-Pakistan match at the world’s second biggest cricket ground — the first being the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad — Indians accounted for around 80,000 seats out of a staggering match-day attendance of over 90,000. Add the estimated worldwide television audience of 700 million and it assumes the status of the most watched cricket match.
No doubt, Virat Kohli’s heroics, leading to India’s thrilling victory, did contribute hugely to the match becoming part of cricketing folklore.
Brendan McClements, after stints with Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council (ICC) in London and Dubai following his early days with Basketball Australia, knows well how the Indians connect with Australia through cricket. As the CEO of Visit Victoria, since 2019, Brendon sees immense potential in attracting more and more Indian tourists to his state and making them feel at home.
Recently, during the Australian Open, Brendan spoke to Sportstar about the factors that could see more Indians feel increasingly comfortable in Australia, enjoy their stay like never before and return with memories to cherish.
Brendan, at the outset, let us hear from you, why should an Indian sports lover visit Melbourne?
The first thing I’d say is, if you’re a sports lover, there’s no better place to come to. There is always a reason to come to Melbourne. You know, obviously, the Australian Open tennis every year is an amazing event, getting bigger and bigger. We’re really hopeful when we all saw this year there’s a young Indian tennis player (Manas Dhamne) coming through. So we’d love to see that stronger performance out of India from a tennis player.
So if you love your tennis, if you love the sport, it’s a great time to be here. India is also a passionate Formula One Nation. So every year you can put it in your calendar… at the end of March, suitably April, there will be a wonderful Formula One here. Not just for one day but three days leading up to it.
And then, of course, the connection between our two countries is cricket. So we know every year there will be a Boxing Day Test at the MCG and that is amazing. That’s a constant. We know that MCG in India is an iconic venue. I know India will be here, not too long away, to play that Boxing Day Test. So with a bit of planning ahead, you’ll be able to find a moment to come to Australia, experience one of those great sporting national and international sporting contests. So for a start for Indian tourists, there is always a sporting reason to come here.
Besides the sporting connection, what else does Melbourne offer to an Indian tourist?
It’s an amazing city. It’s incredibly multicultural, including the subcontinent. And so you’ll be able to find something that’s of interest to you, whether it’s food, some amazing Indian restaurants that showcase food from around India. Apart from the food scene and the sporting scene, we have the cultural scene. We pride ourselves on always having something to do in the evening. So whether it’s going into a restaurant, enjoying some sort of cultural event, a theatre show, or an exhibition, you can fill your days with things that are quite spectacular and make sure that you enjoy your time in the city.
In fact, the story behind the iconic Flinders Street Station (in Melbourne) suggests the plan was actually supposed to be for the Bombay train station. Somewhere, the plans got lost in translation. So we ended up building the station that was supposed to be for Bombay, at the time, now here in Melbourne. I’m not sure how much truth there is but that’s allegedly the case.
Considering your long association with sports, particularly as part of the cricket administration, did you notice any different way cricket is consumed in different countries?
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for a decade in cricket, here in Australia and overseas for the ICC. In my career, I’ve been to cricket in India over 20 times, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the sub-continent. And I’ve loved every moment that I’ve gone to the game. It’s got a unique flavour to it.
For instance, one of the things that I loved about that game — India-Pakistan 2022 World T20 match — here in Melbourne, is that how it showed Australia and Victoria, the passionate way that cricket is supported around the world, and open some eyes about… there’s an Australian way, there’s an English way. Here’s an Indian way that cricket is consumed and loved. So I thought it was absolutely brilliant. And then again, at another level, I thought it was wonderful how we’re lucky enough to be the state in Australia with the highest Indian migrant population, and to have that population often come for the first time to the MCG. And one of the smaller things that was brilliant there was the creation of a Pram-parking service, because so many parents bought the young children to see cricket. So we had 80-100 prams parked in front of the MCG in a number of different places. There were probably 500 parents present that night. As parents and their children came along, for people who have only seen cricket through an Australian lens, to see cricket through an Indian-Pakistan sub-continental lens was an amazing idea.
So, I thought it was wonderful for Australia, and particularly for Melbourne to be showcased through that event, for the locals and Australians to see and witness cricket, with that sense of passion around it. Then for us, to be able to welcome again, our multicultural population into that celebration in that cathedral of sport, the MCG.
What was your impression of the game that night?
I’ve been lucky enough to be at many sporting events in my life. I’ve been to the Olympic Games, football World Cups. I’ve been to some of the greatest sporting events and that night witnessed one of the greatest sporting performances from any athlete in any sport. I think everyone thinks so who witnessed it live. I loved that there were 90,000 spectators as well. I think it’s probably the most-watched cricket game ever, when you think about the distributions for digital tenants, as well.
And Virat Kohli, what an amazing [knock]. And it will live in memory.
I read later what he talked through his thinking in those last couple of overs. It showed there’s a difference between the way someone like Virat goes about it, and mere mortals approach it. Hopefully, the more he does at the MCG, the better.
Coming back to the number of tourists coming to Melbourne and Victoria through the year, where does India rank in terms of the numbers?
Well, pre-pandemic, the No. 1 market was China. In terms of numbers, it was something like 54,000 people a month come through. This included a number of Chinese students as well. China, India and New Zealand are traditional markets, Western markets would include Europe, particularly the U.K. Then of course you have the U.S., Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.
So how have the Indian tourists responded after the pre-pandemic days?
Pre-pandemic, we welcomed around 3 million or so international tourists a year. India was in our top two, three markets. So probably half a million Indian short-stay visitors each year. Post-pandemic, India has been the market that’s responded most strongly to coming back, we saw it during the T20 World Cup. With the sort of Indian population that lives now, and students who study in our state, virtually everyone has a relative or a friend who lives here as well. So there’s been a lot of visiting family and friends.
We know there were 700 million people who watched the India-Pakistan match that night and those 700 million people, if only a million came here, that would be brilliant results. We were so pleased...that game went off brilliantly. It showed Melbourne in a great light. Kohli was heroic in the way because it told a great story about Melbourne — the venue, the place and the celebration.
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