On a day of shrill opinion and high drama across two continents and three countries, the BCCI “suspended” the series in Australia pending the ICC ruling on its appeal against the ban on Harbhajan Singh, and kept the decision to pull out of the tour open for a further 24 hours.
The BCCI meets in emergency session in Delhi on Tuesday evening. Its appeal — and the demand that umpire Steve Bucknor be sacked in this series for incompetence — is already with the ICC.
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<b1>There is no word yet on Harbhajan, but the ICC has so far stuck by Bucknor (see box), who on Monday night seemed set to take the field in the company of Pakistani Asad Rauf in the third Test beginning in Perth on January 16.
“The allegations against Harbhajan are patently false, and we reject them totally,” BCCI chief Sharad Pawar told Hindustan Times. “Match referee Mike Procter’s inquiry was totally one-sided… He didn’t listen to the Indian side and went completely by the version of the Australians…”
“BCCI will meet tomorrow at 8 pm to decide on the further course of action… whether we pull out of the series or not will depend on the ICC’s decision,” said Pawar.
Sydney, January 7
Earlier in the day, BCCI official Rajiv Shukla read out an official statement on behalf of Pawar, saying the “unfair allegations” against Harbhajan were “wholly unacceptable,” and Pawar himself was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying India was giving “serious thought to whether we should continue” with the series.
In Sydney, team sources told Hindustan Times Procter’s judgment was “full of holes”, and India would “conduct an extensive defence”. In Delhi, a top cricket administrator said the “10-line ruling” was “farcical”.
At the hearing, the Aussies apparently raked up a Mumbai incident also involving Harbhajan, indicating he was a repeat offender. The referee took note, and went on to declare, “I believe what (the Australians) have said,” without caring to establish the authenticity of the Aussie version of events.
The team remained in a state of extreme agitation all day. They cancelled their scheduled departure for Canberra for a tour game, and stayed on at their hotel - apparently waiting for a signal from the BCCI. Their bags, which were already on the way out of Sydney, were brought back. The BCCI was learnt to have decided to pick the tab for the extra expenditure.
Early morning India time, Sachin Tendulkar was reported to have sent a text message to Pawar conveying the mood of the players, and saying, “something must be done”.
Back home, the BCCI seemed to be hunkering down for a long, hard fight.“We will take a tough stand, there is no debate on that,” said a top source in the cricket establishment. “In the worst case scenario, what will we suffer? A couple of bilateral series and some monetary fines? We can deal with that. We have to support our players in every way possible.”
News agencies pointed out all day that the BCCI was liable to pay a fine of over $2 million to Cricket Australia should it decide to call off the tour.
The mood at a meeting held at Pawar’s residence was completely behind the players, sources said. The officials spoke with Kumble, Tendulkar, Sachin, Sourav and manager Chetan Chauhan for a first hand account of the situation in Australia.
The meeting finalised a strategy for what one member called “the battle of nerves” ahead. The legal aspects of the complaint, appeals and further action were discussed. It was decided that signals would continue to be given through the media that the Indian team was ready to wrap up and leave, even though that might in reality be only the last option. The financial implications were discussed, and one participant at the meeting argued that India should try to get the umpire out rather than call off the tour. Back channels are learnt to be already working to figure out a way to replace the umpires quickly.
(With HTC in Sydney and New Delhi)