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The prime ministers of India and Australia on Thursday lent a touch of cricket diplomacy to their ties as they inaugurated a test match between their two teams in the western city of Ahmedabad.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Indian host Narendra Modi handed caps emblazoned national emblems to rival captains Steve Smith and Rohit Sharma. They clasped their hands and raised them to the delight of thousands of cricket fans.
The two prime ministers were cheered by cricket fans as they went around the stadium named after Modi and later sat down to watch the start of the game.
Modi and Albanese also saw a photo exhibition highlighting their countries’ cricketing ties. The India-Australia cricket rivalry is considered one of the most intense in the world, comparable to the Ashes test series played between England and Australia.
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Albanese arrived Wednesday in Ahmedabad, a key city in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, at the start of his four-day visit to India. He paid tributes to Mohandas Gandhi, India’s independence leader, during a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, which was one of Gandhi’s abodes in India. Albanese later attended a cultural event related to the Hindu Holi festival at the state governor’s residence.
Albanese will leave later Thursday for Mumbai, where he will visit India’s homemade aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which was commissioned into the Indian navy in September.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands next to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as they arrive in the stadium to watch a cricket test match between India and Australia in Ahmedabad, India, on March 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
The two leaders will hold official talks Friday in New Delhi.
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“Australia and India are important partners,” Albanese said in Perth before leaving for India. “We share common values. We are both vibrant democracies. We have an interest in improving our economic relations.”
He said India, along with Indonesia, would grow to be the third- and fourth-largest economies in the world, which presented “an incredible opportunity” for Australia.
India’s goods exports to Australia stood at $8.3 billion and imports from the country aggregated to $16.75 billion in 2021-22, according to the economic think tank Global Trade Research Initiative.
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While India’s exports range from agriculture, garments and railway engines to telecom, 95% of India’s imports from Australia are raw materials and mining products needed by Indian industry.
Both leaders have expressed their commitments to a “free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.” They stress the progress of the Quad, an alliance of Australia, India, Japan and the United States, that aims to counter China’s rising influence in Asia.