'Tour will continue for the present' - BCCI
The crisis surrounding the Indian tour of Australia seems to have blown over, if temporarily, with the Indian board, whose top brass met in New Delhi on Tuesday night, saying the tour would continue "for the present". In Sydney, the Indian team prepared to travel to Canberra, 48 hours after their scheduled departure.
With the issue of umpire Steve Bucknor resolved earlier in the day, the crucial decision before the board's working committee was to frame a response to the three-Test ban on Harbhajan Singh. It had come under severe pressure from the players to take a strong stand on the issue and there were fears it would make the tour conditional to a clean chit for Harbhajan but its eventual public statement allowed wriggle room for all sides.
A statement issued after the meeting said the working committee "took note of all relevant circumstances and developments and decided that Indian team tour to Australia should continue for the present." The board, it added, will "review the tour and all other developments continuously."
The qualification in the statement was clear elsewhere in the statement, which asked Sharad Pawar, the board president, to use all possible resources to clear Harbhajan of the "obnoxious and baseless allegation", terming the ban" uncalled for, unjustified, patently illegal ... [and] unacceptable". Harbhajan was charged with racial abuse of Andrew Symonds and found guilty under Level 3 of the ICC Code of Conduct.
The BCCI will also request the ICC appeals commissioner to expeditiously process the appeal but did not specify whether he had been asked to complete the process ahead of the third Test in Perth, which begins on January 16.
In Sydney, the news of the board's decision came in the dead of night but it prompted a press conference in the Indian camp at 3a.m. on Wednesday morning. The team's assistant manager, MV Sridhar, said the team would proceed to Canberra, the venue of the next match, with the understanding that the board would ensure its concerns were taken care of. He said the players were hoping for a resolution to the ban issue within seven days.
Asked about the mood in the team, Sridhar said: "I will be lying if I said the players are not disappointed but they understand the procedures involved and also know the responsibility they have of representing the country."
The team, which is expected to leave for Canberra sometime on Wednesday, was in visibly upbeat mood through much of Tuesday. After spending Monday largely indoors and in deep and visible disappointment, they emerged on Tuesday morning and spent some time on Sydney's Bondi Beach. The body language through the day was visibly upbeat and it was learnt that by late evening they had started packing for Canberra, where they are scheduled to play a representative XI in a two-day game from Thursday.