ICC to suspend Harbhajan ban, Australia tour to go on

By Veturi Srivatsa, IANS

New Delhi : India’s tour of Australia will continue as the International Cricket Council (ICC) has agreed to suspend the three-Test ban imposed on off-spinner Harbhajan Singh pending the Indian board’s appeal against it, senior board officials said Monday.

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After hectic inter-continental teleconferencing late Sunday night and right through Monday morning, it has been agreed that the Indian tour of Australia shall continue, the officials told IANS.

Though the Indian team has been asked to stay put in Sydney till the formalities of Board’s appeal to the ICC and the international body’s suspension of match referee Mike Procter’s ruling are completed, the players are expected to leave for Canberra late Monday evening or early Tuesday morning to play a three-day warm-up match before the third Test in Perth, starting Jan 16.

Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Sharad Pawar and his senior colleagues spoke to other ICC directors in an effort to sort out the problem. Late Monday morning India time, Pawar spoke to Team India skipper Anil Kumble and assured the team of the board’s full backing and explained to him the steps being taken to defuse the explosive situation.

Making a brief statement after a meeting of the senior board officials at Pawar’s residence Monday morning, vice-president Rajeev Shukla stated that a letter has been written to the ICC not to post West Indian Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson of England, the two umpires who officiated in the controversial Sydney Test, in matches involving India.

Shukla has made it clear that for the board the game of cricket is paramount, but so too is the honour of the Indian team. To vindicate its position, the board will fight the “blatantly false and unfair slur” on Harbhajan, he added. “The board, in particular, is unhappy with the charge of racial slur against the off-spinner.”

Shukla mentioned that it was the Indian government’s avowed policy to fight racial discrimination at every level and BCCI has been at the forefront to eradicate it from cricket.

For the Indian board its anti-racial stance is an article of faith as it is for the entire nation, which fought apartheid policies in South Africa for decades, Shukla said. “The board has always fought the racist sledging of players and spectators and it will continue to do so.”

Procter, a South African, imposed the three-Test ban on Harbhajan, holding him guilty of racially abusing Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds during an altercation on the fourth day of the Sydney Test. The ban was imposed after a marathon six-hour hearing that spilled over into the early hours of Monday, Australia time.

The board and the team management were particularly angry with the way the whole hearing was held and the way the decision was reached on the evidence of two Australian players Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke, ignoring the man closest to the action, Sachin Tendulkar’s, who had something completely different to say.

Team India’s media manager M.V. Sridhar said all the players were “extremely disappointed with the unilateral decision taken against Harbhajan since there was no evidence against him”.

Australian media reports suggested the Indian spinner broke an understanding between him and Symonds that Harbhajan would not use any racial slur against the Australian when a similar fracas took place in the Mumbai one-Dayer between the two teams last October.