Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Team back bhajji, camp in sydney

Coming out in open support of banned teammate Harbhajan Singh, members of Team India unanimously decided that unless the tag of "racist abuser" was removed, they would stay put here in Sydney pending further action by their home board and the International Cricket Council.

A Monday morning meeting — which excluded members of the tour management and was chaired by skipper Anil Kumble — was held to convey to the Board of Control for Cricket in India the depth of unhappiness and displeasure that is running through the team at the three-match ban slapped by match referee Mike Procter at a hearing here that carried over in the early hours of Monday morning.

Equally upsetting for the team has been the short shrift paid to the testimony of the man batting opposite Harbhajan during their 129-run eighth-wicket stand, in the course of which the altercation with Andrew Symonds took place. Sachin Tendulkar is a senior statesman of world cricket and the fact that Procter virtually ignored him in arriving at the ban on Harbhajan has not passed unmarked.

What has set the cat among the pigeons is the fact that the charge of ‘racism’ was timed to coincide with a key phase of the second Test that India went on to lose with minutes remaining on the final day by 122 runs. According to media manager M.V. Sridhar, the meeting was "an informal one", and held to convey to all parties that the verdict was handed out more on the basis of hearsay more than concrete evidence.

"Bias" and "racism" have become the new buzz-words of a side that now appears under siege. As many as 12 poor decisions were handed out by umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor at the Sydney Test that concluded on Sunday, with more than two-thirds going against the Indians. Procter’s decision to ban Harbhajan thereafter came as something of a last straw. Though no ultimatum has been sent to the BCCI, the team was still keen to convey its discomfort at proceedings and convey to the Board their unhappiness at the way matters had been handled.

Team members trooped down to the bus in the morning, sat in the vehicle for almost two hours before returning to the hotel. Said Sridhar: "There is a lot of paperwork required (for the appeal against Harbhajan’s sentence) and we need to be proper in our appeal. "Hence we are delaying our departure from Sydney," he said as the unprecedented events panned out on Monday morning. The Indians are scheduled to play a side match against an Australian Cricketers Territory Invitational XI beginning either on Thursday or Friday.

"We will leave for Canberra as soon as we are through with the process," Sridhar added. As the drama played itself out, hectic talks between the players and the cricket control board continued to ensure no drastic steps were taken at a delicate stage of the tour. "They are unlikely to leave for Canberra today," sources said.

Team members then returned to the hotel even as talks continued before it was decided that the team stay back here to complete the appeal against Harbhajan’s ban and also lay the groundwork for the abuse charge against Aussie left-arm spinner Brad Hogg.