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Bhajji hearing today, world cricket at stake

There is a very real possibility that the repercussions of the Sydney row could still split world cricket, report HT Correspondents.

cricket Updated: Jan 29, 2008 15:19 IST

By Monday night, a few hours before the ICC-appointed Appeals Commissioner, Judge John Hansen, will begin Harbhajan Singh’s appeal hearing in an Adelaide Federal Court on Tuesday (from 6 am India time), one thing was clear: There is a very real possibility that the repercussions of the Sydney controversy could still split world cricket.

On the record, the BCCI maintains that there was no move to pull out of the triangular one-day series involving India, Australia and Sri Lanka if Harbhajan lost the appeal. “The charges of racism are unacceptable but we are bound by ICC rules,” BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla said in New Delhi on Monday. “We can’t open a Pandora’s box. There will be anarchy (if we withdraw from the tri-series).”

The intriguing part though, was his last line: “…but the racism charges are unacceptable”. This line is in sync with what various BCCI officials told Hindustan Times in private over Monday.

“At the moment, we haven’t discussed the matter in detail since we are optimistic that Harbhajan will be freed of the racial abuse charge,” said a top BCCI official. “But, if he is not, the team management has left the decision up to the Board and we will do whatever is in the best interest of the team and Indian cricket.”

BCCI can afford a pullout’

Significantly, he added that the BCCI could afford a pullout as they could make up for the losses through the Indian Premier League. “I don’t think CA can afford calling off the tour,” he added. “We can.”

The Board is upset on two grounds. First, about the introduction of new evidence in the form of transcripts from the stump microphone, evidence that Judge Hansen told the media in Adelaide was not available to Mike Procter.

“How has this evidence suddenly come to light three weeks after the Sydney Test and the hearing?” asked a top BCCI official. “We have strongly objected to this new evidence because it has come out of nowhere and in the time since, tampering is a definite possibility. This is ridiculous.”

Asked what would happen if the evidence was admitted and made a vital difference to the case, the official said, “It is likely to lead to a flashpoint and a massive crisis in cricket. We can’t accept anything unfair.”

Another BCCI official confirmed that they were expecting the transcript, which was, strangely, made available to the BCCI only on Monday, to play a role despite their protest.

According to sources, the transcript apparently has clear words from Ricky Ponting and Symonds, but what Harbhajan said is unclear. Though this could not be confirmed, it is understood that Symonds is heard saying “what you are saying is racist”.

Strategy was being planned at the Cricket Centre in Mumbai on Monday, in a meeting between the Board-appointed lawyer for Harbhajan, VR Manohar, his son Shashank Manohar, secretary Niranjan Shah and CAO Ratnakar Shetty.

Manohar senior, who will join the hearing via videoconference, said he was confident, but added: “We ourselves will co-operate in anything that is legal and for the purpose of doing justice. But if something fishy is done in the guise of doing justice, we will object. I am very optimistic about Harbhajan’s innocence. Whatever material we have at present is innocuous and in favour of him.”

The problem, said an official, was that “Judge Hansen seemed to have invented a new procedure”. “Procter debarred Harbhajan based on some evidence. Harbhajan filed an appeal and now Hansen seems to be saying, ‘I’m ignoring the inquiry Procter conducted and doing, in effect, what is a de novo inquiry (fresh inquiry).’ We know that Procter’s evidence was inadequate and wouldn’t hold up. What he’s really telling us is, ‘I’ll give the Aussies a fresh opportunity to lead their evidence. The inadequacies they had earlier can be made up now.”

They are also unhappy about the fact that Hansen’s appeal system will see the new evidence, have the witnesses questioned by John Jordan (the ICC-appointed counsel to assist Hansen), will allow a cross-examination by Harbhajan’s counsel and then, finally, allow CA’s lawyer to cross-examine the witnesses again. “If our lawyer dismantles the evidence, then CA’s lawyer can plug the gaps again,” said an official. “This all seems against the Common Law rules.”