Gong for 'little master' knocks Indian media for six

Eyes on the prize ... Julia Gillard at the Magic Bus charity in Delhi yesterday, where she announced Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar would be awarded an AM.
Eyes on the prize ... Julia Gillard at the Magic Bus charity in Delhi yesterday, where she announced Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar would be awarded an AM.

HOW do you get India's attention? Give Sachin Tendulkar a gong.

The subcontinent's media responded quickly when the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, revealed at a Delhi cricket clinic yesterday that the ''little master'' would be awarded membership of the Order of Australia for his services to sport.

The story got instant prominence on India's biggest new websites, including the Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Hindu.

Ms Gillard's announcement ran on at least a dozen local language news websites, many of them with huge readerships. The top-rating Hindi news channel, Aajtak, featured the story on its website and the popular Hindi language news site, mahanagartimes.net, ran a sizable picture of the Prime Minister on its home page alongside a story on Tendulkar's latest honour.

Last night the story had made the bulletins of top-rating Hindi-language TV news channels including India TV, Zee News and ABP News, ensuring a huge audience for the announcement.

''Sachin Tendulkar is set to add another feather to his already crowded cap as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard … announced that the iconic Indian cricketer will be conferred the membership of the Order of Australia, an honour 'rarely' awarded to non-Australians,'' gushed the Press Trust of India report republished by many Indian websites.

Cricket has sometimes been the source of tension between India and Australia but the reaction of India's media to the award shows the game remains an invaluable cultural link.

Tendulkar will get his medal from Simon Crean when the Minister for Regional Australia visits India soon.

''Cricket is of course a great bond between Australia and India,'' said Ms Gillard. ''We are both cricket-mad nations.''

Ms Gillard made the announcement while visiting a cricket clinic run by the charity Magic Bus, which mentors 250,000 young people from impoverished areas across India. Ms Gillard posed happily with the cheering children and watched them play, but she refused media entreaties to take up the bat. She said she had learnt a lesson from the former prime minister John Howard, who bowled badly while on a visit to Pakistan.

However, Ms Gillard had plenty of praise for the charity. ''Education transforms lives,'' she said. ''When you combine sport with education you get a very powerful combination.''

India's vast, boisterous media gave Australia a hammering in 2009 after attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney. But yesterday the same media outlets told an Australian story that millions of Indians are likely to appreciate.

India's growing economic and strategic clout means there is now a constant procession of foreign leaders calling on Delhi. Many dignitaries come and go largely unnoticed by the rank and file but Ms Gillard's arrival in India has received plenty of attention - thanks to Tendulkar.

His award is sure to be noticed by with many more Indians than the issues that will dominate today's official talks: Australian sales of uranium to India and ways to expand trade ties.

This story Gong for 'little master' knocks Indian media for six first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.