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Feature

When Kohli soared, and 90,293 people roared - oh, there's never been anything like it at MCG

It wasn't the visceral roar of an Anglo-Australian crowd fuelled by alcohol; this was joyous, unbridled passion for the teams and the game

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
23-Oct-2022
Getty Images

Getty Images

The MCG is a magical place. The roars here are special. But of all the great sporting events this grand stadium has hosted, of all the roars this grand stadium has produced, Sunday evening's might have been the most extraordinary.
When R Ashwin struck the winning run, the noise that the 90,293 people inside the MCG made was heard in the suburbs more than two kilometres away.
The late Shane Warne, who now has the great southern stand named after him at the MCG, had said he had never heard a roar louder than when he took his 700th Test wicket in front of 89,155 adoring fans on Boxing Day in 2006. This was louder.
It was louder than when Mitchell Starc rattled Brendon McCullum's stumps in the opening over of the 2015 ODI World Cup final.
It was louder than any of the recent AFL grand finals that were played in front of more than 100,000 people.
And it wasn't just one roar. It was every roar. Dozens of them, in a pulsating match that ebbed and flowed across a riveting, nail-biting 40 overs between India and Pakistan.
Even the sights and sounds before the game had a different feel. Hours away from the first ball, there were fans decked in blue and green teeming towards the MCG from all corners of Melbourne. It is rare to see crowds of such size so far out from the start of an event at this venue.
They were ten deep at the nets outside the Ponsford Stand; they were chanting and singing in droves outside the members'. Inside the ground, as the players warmed up, there were cheers.
India and Pakistan had played one another at the MCG before. It was in 1985. They had met twice in ODIs in the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket then.
Ravi Shastri was Player of the Tournament - called Champion of Champions - then, and made 63 not out in India's win over Pakistan in the final. Now he was presiding over the toss as a commentator and received an almighty roar when he introduced Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam to the crowd. The noise was so loud that Rohit's decision to bowl first could not be heard over the loudspeaker.
The roar went up a notch when Babar's name was announced on the big screen as the line-ups were confirmed. It was twice as loud when Virat Kohli's name appeared.
Then came the anthems. The Indian and Pakistani national anthems have been sung in stadiums all around the world, but even those that had heard them many times over had never heard them quite like this. It rivalled when 95,446 sang Liverpool's You'll Never Walk Alone in unison before the Reds played A-League side Melbourne Victory in a friendly at the MCG in 2013.
As India's anthem ended and the roar rang around the 'G, Rohit threw his head back, closed his eyes, and exhaled. The emotion of the occasion was writ large all over his face.
In the Shane Warne stand, there was no animosity, no hint of the political situation that threatens to derail the next Asia Cup in Pakistan and the next World Cup in India. The fans were there to soak in the rarest of occasions, as were the players.
Then the noise reached a crescendo. When Arshdeep Singh swerved one back into Babar's pads and Marais Erasmus' finger went up, the MCG heard a roar unlike any other. It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up and left goosebumps on your arms.
It wasn't the guttural, visceral roar of an Anglo-Australian crowd fuelled by alcohol and a thirst for blood. This was joyous, unbridled passion for a team and the game.
It seemed as though the India fans were in the overwhelming majority as Pakistan slumped to 15 for 2 and could barely lay bat to ball in the powerplay. But the green shirts and Pakistan flags proved otherwise. And Iftikhar Ahmed helped them find their voice with three mammoth sixes to have both sets of fans rocking.
In the Shane Warne stand, there was no animosity, no hint of the political situation that threatens to derail the next Asia Cup in Pakistan and the next World Cup in India. The fans were there to soak in the rarest of occasions, as were the players.
"It was a very good experience," Arshdeep said after the match. "A once-in-a-lifetime experience I would say, playing in [front of] such a big crowd and a crowd loving both the teams."
The game seesawed, with the crowd barely able to draw breath. There was an attempt to start a Mexican Wave but there wasn't a long enough lull.
Pakistan's fans took control again as India stumbled in the chase. Haris Rauf, who had earlier heard the MCG roar for his hat-trick in the BBL, caused an even greater eruption when he dismissed Suryakumar Yadav with extreme pace.
But then Kohli produced his masterpiece. Every sweet six from his blade nearly raised the roof. The last eight balls were absolute bedlam. Nearly every fan in the stadium was on their feet. Wickets, sixes, no-balls, free hits, byes and wides were met with a cacophony that reverberated around the stadium and into the surrounding areas.
There was joy for India, and heartbreak for Pakistan at the end. But those who witnessed it and heard it, no matter which side of the result they were on, felt privileged to be part of it.
"It was my first taste of a World Cup game, of a Pakistan-India game, and I couldn't ask or be grateful for a better event than this," Shan Masood, who took Pakistan to a strong score in collaboration with Iftikhar, said after the match. "Ninety-thousand people at the MCG. That shows how important Pakistan-India games are to cricket.
"If we want to take this game forward, I personally feel that these are games that should happen more regularly and around the world. So it's important for the development of the game that we see games like these, fiercely contested games that go down to the last ball."
Who knows when we will have another one. But savour this one. Savour the sights. Savour the sounds. There has never been anything like it.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo