Australian PM kicks off India visit with cricket event

AHMEDABAD, India (AP) — 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 with 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.

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The two prime ministers were cheered by 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 a 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 flew later Thursday to Mumbai, where he visited India’s homemade aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which was commissioned in the Indian navy in September.

He said in a tweet that the Indian Ocean is central to both countries’ security and prosperity. “And we are working together to ensure the Indo-Pacific is open, inclusive, and prosperous.”

He announced that Australia will host Exercise Malabar for the first time later this year, bringing together the navies of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

The annual exercise includes fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers, anti-submarine warfare, counterpiracy operations and anti-air warfare operations.

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Modi and Albanese will hold official talks on Friday in New Delhi.

“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 exports to Australia totaled $8.3 billion and imports from the country stood at $16.7 billion in 2021-22, according to the economic think tank Global Trade Research Initiative.

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.

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