|Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Julia Gillard
New Delhi, Oct. 16: Julia Gillard did not wield the willow when she took the field today but managed to hit such a whopper of a shot that the blokes back home are nursing the 6,516th reason to hate Sachin Tendulkar.
The Australian Prime Minister announced that her government would confer on Sachin the Membership of the Order of Australia, given to citizens and foreigners for meritorious service or in recognition of their achievements.
“This is a very special honour very rarely awarded to someone who is not an Australian citizen or an Australian national…” Gillard, who is in Delhi on a three-day state visit, said after attending a cricket clinic for underprivileged children. “So, a special honour and a very special recognition of such a great batsman.”
The honour, which Gillard said would be conferred by minister Simon Crean when he visits India early next month, will allow Sachin to put the initials AM after his surname.
But her attempt at cricket diplomacy did not appear to have gone down well back home.
While an Independent MP said “I don’t like it”, The Australian, one of the country’s leading newspapers, said “Australia has 6515 reasons not to honour Sachin Tendulkar”.
The number was a reference to the 3,438 Test and 3,077 ODI runs Tendulkar has scored against Australia since he debuted as a 16-year-old in 1989.
The paper also said Tendulkar’s record against Australia has been “devastating”. The runs in 35 Tests have come at an average of 57.30. The ODI runs in 71 matches have come at 44.59.
Tendulkar, a Rajya Sabha MP, said he felt honoured. “I indeed feel privileged and honoured at receiving this recognition. As an Indian cricketer, I have always enjoyed playing against and in Australia and feel it is one of the great cricketing rivalries, which is pivotal to the health of our game,” he said.
“I hope that this honour will further cement the bond between the two countries, which both share a unique love for cricket. I have always received tremendous affection from the Australian cricket fans. Once again my heartfelt thanks to the Australian government....”
Sachin’s Member of the Order comes under the General Division of the Order of Australia, which has four levels. They are, in descending order, Companion of the Order, Officer of the Order, Member of the Order and Medal of the Order.
Tendulkar, a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honour, would become the second Indian after former attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee to receive the honour.
Other cricketers to have been similarly honoured include West Indians Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Brian Lara.
Gillard said she was “very pleased” that her government was going to confer the honour on such a “special cricketer”.
Not everyone agreed back home.
“Does anyone have a problem with Aust honours being handed out to citizens of other nations? I’m probably on a limb, but I don’t like it,” said Independent MP Rob Oakeshott on Twitter.
“How can PM Julia Gillard award Tendulkar an Order of Australia after his central role in the Monkeygate racism scandal?” cricket writer Malcolm Conn said on the networking site, referring to the 2008 abuse controversy in which Sachin and his teammates had backed Harbhajan Singh.
Others said Gillard should have first thought of Australian cricket legends like Shane Warne. “Why is Sachin Tendulkar getting an Order of Australia before Shane Warne?” one Twitterer asked.
The now retired leg spinner was also on Gillard’s mind when she took the field today, but preferred to watch the proceedings and cheer the children from the comfort of third slip.
Gillard refused to bat or bowl, saying she was “no Shane Warne”. “I wasn’t tempted to showcase my skills… because I don’t really have cricketing skills,” she said.
She also recalled how one of her predecessors, John Howard, had made a mess of bowling on a dust track in Pakistan in 2005. “I have learnt something from watching him and, that is, don’t succumb to playing cricket in front of our friends in the media,” she joked.
But Gillard did score a “century” today, with the international men’s magazine Maxim rating her one of Australia’s hundred hottest women.
Gillard ranked 100. Supermodel Miranda Kerr topped the list.