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'Bollyline' will not derail the Aust and India trade relationship

17 January, 2008

In the lead-up to January 26th, I would normally be writing about Australia Day. Source: Tim Harcourt.

But this year, there is something extra that needs to be done. As it happens, January 26th is also India’s national day, so this year, in light of the recent incidents in the Sydney test, I wanted to devote my usual Australia Day piece to a piece on the Australia-India relationship.

But first, let us talk about the cricket. It has been a big summer in Australia with the headlines again dominated by cricket. However, this time it has been for all the wrong reasons.

The Australian-India test cricket series has been dominated by the ill feeling between the two teams in the Sydney Test with accusations of cheating, racism, and poor sportsmanship. In fact, the Indian captain, Anil Kumble was so incensed that he said after Sydney that “only one side was playing in the spirit of the game” echoing the words of Australian cricketer Bill Woodfull about England’s tactics during the famous ‘Bodyline’ series in 1932-33.

In fact, the similarity between the words of Kumble and Woodfull caused one very clever sub-editor somewhere to call the Sydney Test ‘Bollyline’.

Of course, the Bollyline incident is big news in cricket-mad India. Having been to a test in Mumbai (and seen the legendary Sachin Tendulkar bat, no less) I can think of no more passionate and knowledgeable cricket fans than those in India (with the Caribbean crowds up there too).

And given the importance of cricket as a way of building Australia’s ‘brand’ in the emerging Indian economy, there has been some nervousness that Bollyline could adversely affect Australia economically (particularly those Australian cricketers who receive endorsements in the thriving Indian retail market).

Will Bollyline adversely affect Australia exporters? No I do not think so for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the teams and the respective cricket boards of India and Australia are working it out diplomatically. Like in all relationships, sporting, business or even personal, a bit of a ‘blue’ (argument) now and again, can make both parties realise how important the relationship is and make them work a bit harder.

Many Australians based in India have also been working hard in the Indian media to keep the relationship strong in light of the recent incidents on the cricket field.

Secondly, India’s economic rise is creating an insatiable demand for Australian exports – especially in resources and infrastructure. India’s economic rise means it will soon join China in increasing market share of world output and in turn, Australian exports.

Progress has already been made over the 2000s with Australian exports growing at an annual average rate of growth of almost 29 per cent (compared to China at almost 23 per cent).

In short, they need us to fuel their growth and build their infrastructure and we need them. In fact, the new Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean is set to visit India in only his second overseas mission with the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seeing New Delhi as a top priority for Australia.

Thirdly, there are also growing sectors for Australia and India with education, tourism, financial services, retail, healthcare and franchises all playing an important role. There are currently 1994 Australian businesses exporting to India bringing in over $5million in export revenue each (which is putting it up in the big league with Japan, Korea and China as far as revenue per exporter goes).

But can a rupture in cricket lead to better days? There is one historical precedent, a little bit closer to home than New Delhi. In 1981, Trevor Chappell bowled an underarm delivery to Kiwi tailender Brian McKechnie at the insistence of his brother Greg, who was the Australian captain. This unusual (but then lawful tactic) was hastily used by Greg Chappell to avoid having the burly Kiwi hitting a six to win the game.

McKechnie was outraged by the lack of sportsmanship and he threw his bat away in disgust. But that was nothing compared to the outrage that the underarm ball caused in political circles across the Tasman with the then New Zealand Prime Minister, the (late) Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon saying that it was “the most disgusting incident in the history of cricket” and that “it was fitting that the Australian were dressed in yellow”.

(Actually it was wattle gold, but you got his drift). In some ways, Muldoon spoke for the nation in feeling like the Kiwis weren’t being treated respectfully by their Trans-Tasman cousins.

However, after this tense period in 1981, Australia and New Zealand began negotiations for a free trade agreement – the New Zealand Australian Free Trade Agreement or the original ‘NAFTA’ which later became known as Closer Economic Relations (CER). CER was signed in 1983, and since then Australia-New Zealand economic ties have never been better.

Let us hope we get a similar trade effect between Australia and India after the lows of ‘Bollyline’ in the Sydney Test.

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