The Boxing Day Test match at the MCG is deeply seated in the Australian cricket psyche. Many Australians will travel to experience the atmosphere in Melbourne. They will, however, be joined by the throngs of supporters from The Bharat Army.
The supporters group has followed Team India since 1999, and December 26th will be no exception. Membership of the club is free but some fans spend a small fortune following India around the world.
"We have a core group from all over Australia that are travelling to all matches and then we have our overseas members from India, UK, USA and some from New Zealand as well," said Rakesh Patel who is one of the founders of The Bharat Army. Patel is from London and formed the supporters group with three friends after the 1999 Cricket World Cup.
Many fans are travelling around Australia as part of The Bharat Army. Exact numbers aren’t available, but Patel was quick to demonstrate the size of support for each match. "It’s difficult to put an exact number on how many but what you can say is The Bharat Army has dedicated bays at each of the matches across the T20s, ODIs and Tests of which the majority are sold out."
The numbers of fans representing The Bharat Army is staggering when you consider the air miles racked up already. Ignoring any long-haul flights to get to Australia, the tour has already transversed the country. The tour started in Brisbane before moving on to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide then Perth. The tour is currently in Melbourne before moving to Sydney then Adelaide before finishing off in Melbourne again.
Some die-hard fans will then follow India on the New Zealand leg of the tour! The fan commitment was not lost as he said, "With the matches being spread all over Australia, it’s a challenge not only for our overseas fans but also those based in Australia with many having to use their annual holiday entitlements to catch as much of the cricket as possible".
With a large presence of ‘away’ fans, only seen when England’s Barmy Army are travelling during the Ashes, it would be easy to think that there could be some hostility from Australian cricket fans. However, Patel was complimentary about the reception was given to The Bharat Army.
"The majority of Australian fans have been brilliant and very welcoming. What we have tried to bring is our famous Bharat Army experience in the stands and so the Australian fans have very much loved and embraced the noise, colour and atmosphere we have bought to the matches this summer so far," he said.
The Bharat Army is more than just a supporters group based on accessing tickets for fans. They make sure that they heard and seen when they attend games. At the upcoming Boxing Day Test match, fans will get free merchandise. Patel explains, "our Bays are almost sold out for the first few days and we expect thousands of Bharat Army at the MCG. We will create our sea of blue with our 3,000 flags we are giving away free to Indian Fans."
More than just supporting India, The Bharat Army is getting into the spirit of the Pink Test at Sydney in January. Test matches played at Sydney provide valuable funds to the McGrath Foundation which is a breast cancer charity. It was set up by Australian cricket legend Glenn McGrath and his first wife, Jane, who sadly died of breast cancer at the age of 42.
The Bharat Army is offering its support. Patel explained, "we have partnered with the McGrath Foundation and will be raising money during the Test by selling 1,500 Pink Flags, Pink Shirts and Trucker Caps - so you can expect to see the Bharat Army Fan Zones as a sea of pink."
Moving on to the on-field action, Patel offered his thoughts, "The series has been fairly consistent to those contested against South Africa and England so far this year...India have been fairly competitive however some poor decision making in the selection and the opposition winning the bigger moments of the match has set up another exciting series."
And finally, who wins the series and why?
"With MCG a batting wicket, a expect this match will play out as a high scoring draw with all to play for in the final Test, Sydney traditionally takes turn and therefore, I believe will play to India’s advantage with Kuldeep coming in with Ashwin for India to seal a 2-1 series victory," he concluded.Published 23 Dec 2018, 15:35 IST