A number of trade pundits have suggested that Steve Waugh’s celebrity should be used to sell Australian exports to cricket-mad India.
This idea seems obvious, and indeed, one Australian insurance company has used Waugh’s endorsement in its bid to crack India’s market.
But if Australia and India are to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s business or culture, Steve Waugh — and cricket — must be dropped.
Using cricket to understand each other is like viewing a painting through a magnifying glass: you see the detail, but you miss the wider picture.
Talk to any Delhi auto-rickshaw driver and he could probably easier recite Ricky Ponting’s batting average than name Australia’s prime minister.
India is so consumed with cricket that most conversation about the game is actually small talk. It is like the English whingeing about the weather. When Indians and Australians talk, cricket is the fallback topic when all else fails.
So let’s not fool ourselves that just because Indians and Australians can share a long conversation about Shane Warne’s weight that this is the same as knowing each other.
Few Australians would know that India’s Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, an accomplished Hindi poet, is not a known cricket fan. And Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the opposition Congress Party, if she ever becomes Prime Minister, would never describe herself as a “cricket tragic”.
Cricket should therefore be no more than a conversational icebreaker, or else Australians will know little more about India than hoary chestnuts about wristy Indian batsmen and wily spinners.
As a start on the road to understanding, Australians should demolish two misconceptions. The first is a negative one of India as a land of dust, diseases, and destitution - contradicted lately by the bullish cliché about India as a booming economy emerging from years of socialist rule. The truth, of course, is that it’s a mix of both.
India’s annual economic growth rate has indeed ramped up to China-style speed levels of eight per cent; each month some 2 million Indians are getting telephone connections, mainly via mobile phones; and Indian car-makers are starting to make models destined for western markets.
Yet around 900 million Indians remain without a telephone, and several hundred million people remain mired in subsistence farming. Many fine Indian writers have certainly tried to convey to the world this complex story of a country straddling village and city life.
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