Indian board moves to appeal against ban
On a day of rapidly shifting events and wild rumours, which began early in the morning with the fallout of the previous day, the focus shifted from the umpiring in the Sydney Test to the three-Test ban imposed on Harbhajan Singh for racial abuse. The ball is now with the Indian board, which has come under increasing pressure from the Indian team - and highly charged public opinion at home - to take a tough stand on the issue and back Harbhajan.
It is understood the players want the ban imposed on Harbhajan to be lifted before the next Test, in Perth; they feel there was insufficient evidence on which to find Harbhajan guilty. Sachin Tendulkar, the team's senior-most player, is believed to have sent Sharad Pawar, the board president, a message saying the board should stand by Harbhajan and the team should play at Perth only if the ban is lifted.
The board responded through several measures: it issued a statement saying it did not accept the ban and, later in the day, said it had filed an appeal with the ICC against it; it sought the withdrawal of Steve Bucknor from the Perth Test, where he is due to umpire. It also directed the Indian team to remain in Sydney instead of leaving for Canberra on Monday morning as scheduled.
Though rumours of the team pulling out of the tour remained just that, with Cricket Australia saying it was satisfied that the matches would go ahead, Pawar struck a warning note. "We are giving serious thought to whether we should continue," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We feel that we must take action, enough is enough. We would like to keep an extremely good relationship with the Australian board. Our relationship is extremely cordial and we would like to continue that, but this [Harbhajan's ban] is totally unacceptable."
It is believed the BCCI, which has called an emergency Working Committee meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, will wait on that decision till it hears from the ICC.
The day's action began in Sydney, where the team was preparing to leave the Radisson Hotel for Canberra - where they are due to play a tour game from Thursday - by coach at 10.30am. However, instructions were issued to the contrary and the baggage was taken off the coach. Around 4.15pm, the media manager, MV Sridhar, confirmed the team had been instructed by the board to stay in Sydney till the formalities for Harbhajan's appeal were completed. The players spent the day mostly in their rooms.
An hour later Sridhar said the team had received the official document regarding Harbhajan's ban, one where he was accused of a 'monkey' taunt against Australian allrounder Andrew Symonds. The team was intent on reading the detailed written order from the match referee, Mike Procter, to find out what the exact racism charges were.
Around the same time the board, in New Delhi, released a statement expressing its intent to fight the allegations against Harbhajan. "The unfair allegation of racism against our player is wholly unacceptable," the statement read. "The game of cricket is paramount but so too is the honour of India's cricket team and every Indian. The BCCI is committed to protecting the country's fair name. India's national commitment is against racism. Our national struggle is based on values which negate racism."
The board also requested the ICC to replace Steve Bucknor from third Test in Perth following poor umpiring decisions in Sydney. That is still up in the air, though. An ICC spokesman invoked the playing conditions both teams signed up to before the series, saying: "Neither team has a right to object to an umpire's appointment." To remove Bucknor, the issue would have to be discussed and voted on by the ICC's executive board, with a majority of members voting in favour of removing him.
Soon after, Ricky Ponting added to the debate in an interview with Channel Nine, when he declined to reveal what was said between Harbhajan and Symonds on the field but offered a blunt assessment when asked if the situation "smacks of racism". "I think that's been proven," Ponting said.
Ponting also said he was surprised by the speculation that India's tour might be cancelled and that they had not sent their players to Canberra as planned. "They're entitled to do whatever they think is appropriate at the time but for me that would be a little bit extreme, I must admit," he said.