Harbhajan racism charge not proven - Hansen
Three weeks after the controversy erupted, the racism charge against Harbhajan Singh was found to be not proven by Justice John Hansen, hearing the appeal, on Tuesday. Harbhajan was instead charged with a Level 2.8 offence - abuse and insult not amounting to racism - to which he pleaded guilty and was fined 50 per cent of his match fees.
With this, the cloud over the immediate future of the Indian tour lifted; the Indian team, which had gathered in Adelaide in a show of support instead of proceeding to Melbourne for Friday's Twenty20 match, has now decided to continue with the original arrangements.
Harbhajan had been found guilty of racist abuse of Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test in early January and handed a three-Test ban by match referee Mike Procter. The charge was leveled by the on-field umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, on a complaint from Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain that Harbhajan had called Symonds a monkey.
An ICC statement following the conclusion of the appeal said that "a letter signed by all the players involved - from both Australia and India - was tendered into evidence as an agreed statement of facts as to what took place during the Sydney Test match."
During the hearing, oral evidence was called for from all the witnesses to the exchange between Harbhajan and Andrew Symonds - Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Sachin Tendulkar. The witnesses were then cross-examined by Brian Ward, counsel representing the Australians, and VR Manohar, representing Harbhajan via video link from Mumbai.
"Justice Hansen said he was convinced that, on all the evidence submitted before him, the charge of a Level 3.3 offence was not proven but that Harbhajan should be charged with a Level 2.8 offence." Harbhajan pleaded guilty to this charge, after which the fine was imposed on him. Hansen is scheduled to provide the full reasons for delivering his judgement on Wednesday evening.
"It is definitely known that there was some offensive language used at that time," said MV Sridhar, the team's assistant manager. "He's agreed to have used some form of abusive language. We felt that at the best interest of all there was an amicable solution arrived at. The charge was not withdrawn but we jointly felt that 3.3 will not be on the scale and 2.8 will be more relevant to the cause. Justice [Hansen] was generous enough to impose a fine of 50%."
About the decision to stay back in Adelaide, Sridhar said it was a show of solidarity. "There was no stand-off or anything between the boards," he said. "Over the last couple of weeks there was tremendous effort from Cricket Australia and BCCI. And they've been able to come to a cricketing solution. The efforts have been on and we were able to submit it in time to the appeals commissioner.
"The thinking over staying back was that the entire team should be in one place. We were here and the appeal was coming up today. That's the only reason. This decision to call the players was taken prior to all this."
After the hearing the two teams issued a joint statement emphasising the need to move on and focus on the cricket. "Harbhajan and Symonds said they had resolved the issue between them in Sydney and now intend to move on. They have said they intend to make no further comment on the issue and get on with the game of cricket, which is the most important issue for each of them." The two captains also expressed their satisfaction with the outcome.
Cricket Australia's spokesman Peter Young said both the Indian board and Cricket Australia were happy with the decision. Sharad Pawar, president of the Indian board, said the verdict vindicated the BCCI's stand. "The judge has given a proper judgement. BCCI was consistently taking only one stand that it was practically impossible for us to accept the racist charges against any Indian player."