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Indians urged a rethink

cricket Updated: Jan 08, 2008 16:30 IST
Kadambari Murali
Kadambari Murali
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

It is believed that the Indian contingent at the Harbhajan Singh hearing on Sunday night repeatedly asked the Australians to think very carefully before going ahead with the “racism” charge against Harbhajan Singh, saying it was a serious charge that had repercussions “far beyond cricket”.

“We told them that it’s one thing to accuse a player of sledging, quite another to say he is racist,” said a source, “but they were insistent that he wanted to racially abuse Symonds.” While the Indian team has been upset a while over the umpiring decisions in Sydney, there is absolute outrage over the branding of Harbhajan as a racist. “If it is not taken back, it is a tag that could stay with him for the rest of his career,” said a team official. “He is still so young, it will come back to haunt him”.

Those few hours
The hearing, conducted by ICC match referee Mike Procter (assisted by English lawyer Nigel Peters), lasted well over four hours and saw a series of cross-examinations by both parties. While Symonds made the charge, Harbhajan denied it. Of the four Aussies who turned up for Symonds, two (Ponting and Gilchrist) said they had heard nothing.

TV replays show only Matt Hayden had a realistic chance of overhearing the conversation, though both he and Michael Clarke backed Symonds’ charge. Umpires Bucknor and Benson and Tendulkar, batting with Harbhajan at the time, said they had heard nothing of the sort. Tendulkar said Harbhajan didn’t say it.

Hogg in the dock?
Things apparently got a bit heated when the Australians accused Harbhajan of being a “repeat offender”, of using the same racial slur during the Mumbai ODI last year. The Indians then asked why the Australians hadn’t complained at the time, and then complained to Procter about Hogg calling an Indian player (reportedly Kumble) a “bas****”. “We did not file the complaint in the prescribed form but we did bring it to the notice of the match referee,” said Sridhar. An official complaint will be filed and it is believed there is audio proof of this charge.

Why didn’t you speak, Gilly?
It is also believed that the examination went off tangent a couple of times. Ponting was apparently reminded that he had every reason to see Harbhajan out of the way, given that he virtually became Harbhajan’s bunny, while Gilchrist was asked why, when he was so particular about integrity, did he not indicate that Rahul Dravid’s pad and not bat touched the ball in India’s second innings — Dravid was declared caught behind, a shocking decision that probably changed the match. At these times, it is believed (though Procter could not be reached), that Procter intervened, asking they stick to what was being discussed. The Indians argued that in the absence of any back-up evidence (audio or video), this was being interpreted as one man’s word against another, so they had to prove that people’s integrity could be interpreted differently. “It was to no avail, even then, we were getting a sense of fighting a losing battle,” said a source.

Sham and shame
“There was a feeling that this was a sham and a waste of our time, that the verdict had already been decided before it began and that Bhajji would be made an example of. Speed (ICC chief Malcolm) was in town and talked of a crackdown on anyone infringing on the spirit of the game. Procter was under fire for letting off Yuvraj (for standing his ground in Melbourne after being dismissed) and wanted to make a strong point.” While an ICC gag order means players cannot publicly speak of the hearing or what went on inside the room, it is understood that the team is particularly furious about Procter’s stating that he was “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt” that Harbhajan had sledged Symonds by using the word “monkey”. And, that he “meant it to offend on the basis of Symonds’ race or ethnic origin”.

Ref under scanner
“Without audio or video proof, how could he be sure beyond all reasonable doubt?” asked a player. “Procter’s attitude also needs investigating then”. Some say Procter dealt with India roughly and indicated he “thought only one group was being honest” (and that wasn’t India), is being viewed as a clear questioning of the Indians’ integrity. The BCCI is in support of its players. In a statement, the Board said: “… (it) questions the very conduct of the hearing, as the Match Referee, before reaching his decision, disregarded the essential point of any inquiry, that it should be based on facts, rational, detached and objective.”