Players unhappy with 'racist' branding January 7, 2008

Indian team rallies around Harbhajan

The Indian players had a meeting that lasted close to two hours where they decided to stick firmly behind Harbhajan Singh © AFP

India's players have often been criticised for not standing up when it counted but on a day of high drama, they seemed to have done just that. They sent out a message saying they wouldn't leave Sydney until there was more clarity on the ban handed to Harbhajan Singh and decided to stick together through this crisis.

The players had a meeting that lasted close to two hours, where no member of the support staff was present, and they decided to stick firmly behind Harbhajan. They were hurt at the match referee's verdict and wouldn't accept the fact that one of their team-mates had been branded a 'racist'.

The players, set to leave for Canberra at 10:30 am, sat in the coach for close to two hours before returning to their respective rooms in the Radisson Hotel. They spent the day mainly indoors, though many lingered in the lobby, chatting with one another. Harbhajan, who appeared once in a while, was cheerful while the rest waited to hear the future course of action.

A number of players were seen with their wives - Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik and Sourav Ganguly. A tired Lalchand Rajput, the interim coach, spoke about how fatigued the players were: "[A] tough Test match, [and] a sleepless night after that." A number of the players used the day off to rest in their rooms, recuperating from what has been a charged few days.

The topics of discussion varied but did veer towards the contentious umpiring decisions in the game. Anil Kumble's strong statement at the end of the Test - "Only one team is playing in the spirit of the game" - was echoed by a number of players. The claiming of illegal catches was discussed, as were the scenes at the end of the game.

A sizeable crowd gathered in front of the hotel with rumours and speculation flying thick and fast. Will they go home? Will they leave for Canberra? Many questions floated around. A number of Indian expatriates were there, most of them wanting the team to take the bold step and return home. A number of photographers and television cameramen also waited outside.

It was interesting to see a number of players inquiring with the scribes about the "latest" news. "So much is happening around that we are more clueless about the situation than you think," said one player. "But you can gauge that the mood is one of hurt and disappointment."

What had disturbed them was the verdict on Harbhajan. "The team is very unhappy," said India's assistant manager MV Sridhar, "with actions both on and off the field. The Harbhajan incident has only added to what has been a forgettable Test match." It was unacceptable to them that one of their team-mates had been branded a 'racist', a slur which he would need to carry for the rest of his career.

The Indian board also sent out an emotionally-charged statement on the same. "It is an avowed policy of the Indian government to fight racial discrimination at every level and the India board has been at the forefront to eradicate it from the game of cricket," it read. "For the Indian board anti-racial stance is an article of faith as it is for the entire nation which fought the apartheid policies. The board has always fought the racist sledging of players and spectators and it will continue to do so."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo