India-Australia ties: Cricket, commonwealth, curry and friendship
Competitive, colourful and sometimes even controversial: There is something about an Australia vs India contest in cricket. On the eve of what will undoubtedly be a thrilling world cup semi-final, two nations prepare themselves for what we all hope will be a match of the ages.
It is important to appreciate that cricket has for many years been the lifeblood of the Australia-India relationship. Historically, it has often been said that the Australia-India relationship is based on three things: Cricket, commonwealth and curry. While the recent visits by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to India and PM Narendra Modi to Australia highlight that our national interests have converged in other areas, cricket still remains enviable bond that Australia and India share.
It is therefore no surprise that the two greatest ever cricketers of all time hail from Australia and India: Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar. They shared a mutual respect for each other and an appreciation of the importance of cricket, on and off the field. Indeed, as a symbol of how Tendulkar has served the Australia-India relationship by promoting goodwill, friendship and sportsmanship through the sport of cricket, he was recently conferred Australia’s highest honour, the Order of Australia. Delivering the Bradman oration in December 2011, Indian cricket great Rahul Dravid said: “The people of both our countries are often told that cricket is the one thing that brings Indians and Australia together.”
As an Australian living in India, I can appreciate this sentiment. Often, out of curiosity, I am asked by a stranger on the street or an auto-rickshaw driver: “Which country?” To this, I respond “Australia”. Following this short exchange, the stranger will almost instinctively rattle off a few familiar names: “Ricky Ponting”, “Michael Clarke” and “Adam Gilchrist”. Despite my limited Hindi and their limited English, we manage to hold an engaging conversation on cricket. Cricket is a universal language.
Given the importance of India’s growing diaspora in Australia (which is now comprises half a million people), our governments regularly extol the virtues of people-to-people links as a means of improving the relationship. Sports, culture and the arts are important facets of this relationship. The widespread popularity of shows such as Master Chef Australia in India, the appreciation of Indian cuisine in Australia and of course our shared love for sport, especially cricket, are all catalysts for stronger people-to-people ties in the relationship.
In the interests of promoting cricket as a mechanism for furthering the Australia-India relationship, Cricket Australia hosted 30 young leaders from Australia and India recently to kick off the Australia India Youth Dialogue 2015. As part of proceedings, the delegates heard from experts about the role of sport in diplomacy. The panel comprised cricketing great Doug Walters, Greg ‘Mo’ Matthews, AIYD delegate and former Australian women’s cricket team vice-captain Lisa Sthalekar, and Gurinder Sandhu, the first male cricketer of Indian ancestry to represent Australia in an international tournament. It was clear hearing from these cricketing greats that cricket is a language that can and does bridge cultural barriers and the Australia-India relationship is all the healthier because of it.
During his Bradman oration, Rahul Dravid said that “whenever India and Australia meet, there is expectation and anticipation — … players on both sides will want to deliver their best”. The World Cup semi-final will be no exception. May the best team win.
Shaun Star is the chair and co-founder of the Australia India Youth Dialogue
(The views expressed by the author are personal)