It's a sixer! Cricket diplomacy between Australia and India
The game has provided the two countries one of the strongest platforms for friendship and goodwill.
India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar presenting a cricket bat signed by iconic Indian batsman Virat Kohli to Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.
Australia and India have many common areas of cooperation but in all of them cricket has a prime historic position. While both countries aim towards developing new and important avenues to cooperate, the one link that has remained constant over time is cricket. Cricket has been more than just a sport for the people of India as well as Australia, it has been a source of national pride for their people. Cricket is, therefore, a vibrant source of shared emotions among the Indian and Australian people.
A tool for diplomacy
As even conveyed by the incumbent Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on his recent visit to Australia -”India and Australia should write a serious book on diplomacy which would be disguised as a serious book on cricket”. This statement in itself conveys how important the role of cricket has been in bringing together these two countries who are considered to be the hub of cricket worldwide. Jaishankar also had heartily noted that meeting the great Australian cricketer Steve Waugh has been the highlight of his visit to Australia. In a hearty gesture of cooperation and support, Jaishankar also presented the Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles with a cricket bat signed by the Indian cricketer Virat Kohli.
This points to the fact that there is a direct convergence between diplomacy and sports, in this case particularly cricket, to develop common ground for cultural and strategic understanding. In the case of India and Australia, cricket is often seen as the starting vantage point for basing further cooperation on other areas. The common love and devotion for cricket is what the officials on both the sides may relate to on an equal level. This has also been the starting point of the famous three Cs that bind the two nations together - cricket, curry and the commerce (earlier Commonwealth was used in place of commerce, but soaring trade ties have put commerce firmly at a higher level).
A look into the past
Contrary to what the popular perception may be, the Indian Australian connection in terms of cricket is not a new phenomenon but has a vast and fascinating history. The relations between the two countries date back to the nineteenth century.
It was in 1897, Australia was yet to become a Federation and India was yet to gain independence. As the two countries were exploring their political trajectory, a remarkable journey of cricket was also being etched in their historical accounts. This journey begins with the story of Ranjitsinhji, the Indian cricket whose name now lives on through the famous Ranji Trophy state level tournament in India. However, back in 1897, during the historical Ashes Tournament held between England and Australia, Ranjitsinhji became the name that mesmerised the Australian crowd unexpectedly. He was a part of the English Cricket team in the tournament and is credited with scoring a century in the Test series. He became the first Indian to play in the international English Cricket Team and also the first subcontinent cricketer to play in Australia. As the records suggest, he became the central figure in the Australian media at that time.
Another interesting point of contact was way back in 1877, when the very first international match was played between England and Australia. In the Australian team, there was a cricketer named Brand B. Cooper, who went on to become the first Indian origin cricketer to play for the Australian Cricket Team. The most fascinating aspect of this fact is that the first international cricket match ever saw an Indian origin cricketer play for the Australian team. This further adds to the strong basis of the cricket ties between the two countries.
Records show that the first match between Australia and India happened in 1947 however, the history goes far beyond this. In 1917, when the world was at the height of the First World War, there was another alliance being forged through cricket. The Sikh and the Gurkha Battalions were fighting alongside the first Australian battalion, the Anzacs. This led to the first ever cricket match between the Indians and Australians. The match was a part of the Military cricket match hosted at the prestigious Lord’s stadium.
The soft power potential of cricket is recognised to such an extent that there are programmes such as the Colours of Cricket podcast hosted only to explore the India-Australia ties in terms of the sport on a deeper level.
A multicultural Australian cricket
Over the years, cricket has also become a source of multicultural assimilation in Australia as we see more and more people of Indian and South Asian origin representing Australia at the international level. The Indian migrants in Australia not only find a place to represent at the international level but also on a day to day basis find it easier to connect to the Australian society with cricket as a common ground. As the former captain and one of the greatest names in Indian cricket, Kapil Dev noted, "Forty years back Australian team was only Australian born people but now Australia also recognizes that people who live there, have a passport, who come from any part of the world can represent Australia. I feel proud, this should be the unity in any country. I have seen in the last ten or fifteen years, so many Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans have come and played for Australia and they feel proud about that".
At present, for the Under-19 Cricket World Cup, the fifteen member Australian Squad included two members of Indian Origin, namely Nivethan Radhakrishnan and Harkirat Singh Bajwa. Witnessing Australian cricket being very receptive to the migrant population also adds to the positive relations between Australia and the South Asian countries, especially India.
Role of Women
When it comes to the Indian origin cricketers in the Australian side, Lisa Sthalekar is a known name in Australian Cricket. The inspiring story of the cricketer starts from Pune, Maharashtra who eventually goes on to become the President of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA). She became the face of Women's Cricket by scoring a 1,000 runs and taking around 100 wickets in the One Day Innings Format.
The story of Lisa Sthalekar puts our attention to the role that women cricketers can play in deepening the cordial relationship between the communities of India and Australia. Not only professional cricket, the migrant women population in Australia also found a safe haven in cricket to assimilate better into the new country. This has been only possible because of the shared culture of cricket between the two countries.
Professionally, the women’s cricket team has also now become the source of national pride for India as well as Australia. Women cricketers like Mithali Raj or Anjum Chopra on the Indian side and Betty Wilson, Ellyss Perry and Lisa Sthalekar on the Australian side, have dominated the game of cricket with their prowess.
Speaking of the men’s international cricket teams, on the one hand it is the Australian names like Brett Lee, Steve Waugh, David Warner, Adam Gilchrist, or the late legend Shane Warne who have repeatedly expressed their love for Indian cricket, they also have a huge fan base among the Indian audiences. Indian legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli or Kapil Dev have also been fond of their Australian counterparts.
In conclusion, cricket can be seen as a direct tool for igniting a nationalistic fervour among the people but the case of India and Australia shows that it can also be a used as a catalyst to foreign policy cooperation as well.