The current tantalising cricket test series between India and Australia at the time of writing is locked at one all, with fans licking their lips in anticipation of more. This much talked about series has seen the best (and worst) of test cricket- skill, resolve, resilience and determination as well as the unpredictability and vagaries of the noble game. Who can forget India’s backs-to-the-wall victory in Melbourne, stand-in captain Rahane’s century leading from the front, or the mesmeric bowling of Australia’s pace attack in dismantling India for 36 all out in Adelaide? Individual and collective feats of skill abound.
Both India and Australia are titans on and off the field. Arguably, the Border-Gavaskar trophy is at least on a par with the Ashes in prestige and importance. Australian coaches have mentored India players, and Australian players grace the IPL fields and the commentary box. India is the undisputed king of global cricketing finances, driven by huge sponsorship, gate takings, and other corporate support.
Much of what we have seen in cricket mirrors the broadening and deepening engagement between India and Australia in multiple domains. Of the exactly 100 test matches played between the two countries since India’s independence in 1947 to the end of 2020, 50% have been played since 1995 alone. Correspondingly, two way merchandise trade between the two nations, according to UNCTAD data, has grown from $1208.5 US million in 1995 to $13066.3 US million in 2018. Two way services trade has grown from $1200 US million in 2005 to $6119 US million in 2018, drawing on World Trade Organisation data. This is not to lose sight of the growing investment, cultural and diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Even beyond all this is the strength in people-people relationships. According to the Australian Department of Home Affairs, the number of Indians living in Australia doubled in 2018 compared to a decade earlier, to become the third largest migrant community in Australia. Drilling down, is the immense benefit that India has brought to Australia in addressing skills shortages and promoting economic growth, through growth in skilled migration. More than 85% of India’s permanent migration to Australia has been in the skilled category in recent times, not to mention the rapid growth in temporary skilled migration, especially in IT fields, while visas granted to Indian students has risen from 29,591 in 2015-2016 to a whopping 66,449 in 2018-2019.
These numbers speak volumes for the burgeoning India- Australia relationship built on mutual respect, collaboration, complementarities and commonality of challenges. Admittedly there have been some perturbations in the relationship, for example, violence against Indian students in Australia in the latter part of the first decade of the 2000’s, and tensions and rancor on the cricket borne of fierce competition, and at times varying political agendas. However, like quarrels between siblings are patched up, the over-riding relationship between the two countries is founded on shared values, aims and objectives, drawing in part on institutional alignment and common need.
A number of features stand out in the relationship. First in the defence arena, India and Australia are part of the quad countries (also including Japan and the US), undertaking collaboration in defence and regional and global security. Moreover, according to the Lowy Asia Power Index, India is ranked 4th and Australia 6th out of 26 countries, reinforcing their influence and weight in the Asia region. Second, on trade, India will become an even greater priority for Australia as relationships between Australia and China have undergone severe strain. There is likely to be a revitalisation of the Australia-India Free Trade Agreement as part of diversifying Australia’s trade profile. Third, both countries face similar challenges and opportunities including in managing agriculture and natural resources, energy, the blue economy and broader maritime issues. Fourth, complementarities abound in terms of mutual emphasis on education, shared research expertise in medicine, biotechnology and engineering to name a few, and similar institutions. Fifth, cultural ties are becoming of greater significance through tourism, and the emerging popularity of Bollywood in Australia, and Australian Master Chef in India. The Indian diaspora in Australia is growing and increasingly influential. Other work has identified the opportunities for Australia-India trade, drawing in part on India’s emerging middle class.
Of significance is the emerging formalisation of links. The Australian “India Strategy” released in 2018, identified, among other things, 10 core sectors for Australia to engage India with: flagship education sector; three leading sectors of agribusiness, tourism and resources; and six promising sectors in energy, health, financial services, infrastructure support, sport, science and innovation.
In response, India released its “Australia Strategy” covering not only similar and traditional sectors as above, but promising new, creative and somewhat unexplored ones in traditional Indian medicine, trauma care, aged care and clinical trials.
To give further expression to the relationship, Prime Ministers Modi and Morrison signed a joint statement in June 2020 for a comprehensive partnership in areas including science and technology, Innovation and entrepreneurship, pandemic response, cyber security and terrorism, energy, environment and water, maritime and defence co-operation, broader regional and multilateral co-operation, inter-parliamentary, public administration and governance co—ordination and co-operation.
Looking ahead, pro-active, joint responses to pandemics and other global disruptions, are likely to form cornerstones of the relationship.
Deepening cricketing ties are mirrored in the broader relationship between the two countries. While the current test series will end in January this year, over the coming years new players from both countries will grace the field, building on tradition, and off the field new endeavours and opportunities for mutual engagement in trade, investment, culture and security will be identified and explored.
Dr. Anand Kulkarni is Associate Director, Planning, Performance and Risk at Victoria University. His book, India and the Knowledge Economy, Performance, Perils and Prospects, was published by Springer in 2019.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s entirely.
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