Harbhajan Singh has been found guilty of making a racist comment to Andrew Symonds on the third day of the Sydney Test and slapped with a three-Test ban. Mike Procter, the match referee, ruled at the end of a four-hour hearing that Harbhajan had breached Level 3 of the ICC's Code of Conduct. The Indian team management said it would appeal against the ban.
The charge was brought by the on-field umpires after they received a complaint from Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain. The incident occurred when Harbhajan was batting with Sachin Tendulkar during India's first innings on Saturday. It was alleged that Harbhajan had an argument with Symonds, during which time he called Symonds a "monkey".
Announcing his verdict, Procter said: "I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Harbhajan Singh directed that word at Andrew Symonds and also that he meant it to offend on the basis of Symonds' race or ethnic origin."
The ban takes place immediately and so will rule Harbhajan out of the rest of the Test series. The Indian management have 24 hours to lodge an appeal with the ICC and, if they do so, he will be free to play pending that hearing.
It also emerged that the Indians levelled a counter-claim of abuse against Brad Hogg, Australia's left-arm spinner. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald said the Indians accused Hogg of using offensive language during the Test. The report stated that the hearing on Hogg's conduct will, in all likelihood, be held on Monday.
MV Sridhar, the assistant manager, who spoke to the media before the decision was announced, said there was no video or audio evidence involving Harbhajan. "We felt there was no substantial evidence," he said.
The Indian board president, Sharad Pawar has said he was determined to preserve strong ties between the India and Australia. "There is an extremely good relationship between the countries," he told the Melbourne-based Age. "There has been a conflict on the field and an issue has been reported by some players, but I don't want to react. It is important it should not spoil the relationship between the countries or the teams. That is not our desire."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo