International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ray Mali said Wednesday that removing umpire Steve Bucknor from the third India-Australia Test was a "practical solution" that averted a political, diplomatic row between the countries.
Mali also stressed that Bucknor's removal, owing to India's strong protest over the mistakes he made during the second Test in Sydney last week, was not linked to Harbhajan Singh's racial comments issue that led to him being banned for three Tests.
He said that the hearing involving Andrew Symonds's allegations against Harbhajan would be carried out as planned in Perth, where the third Test starts Jan 16. India trail 0-2 in the four-Test series.
"By standing Steve down for the third Test, we have successfully defused the situation, at least for the time being, and so what was a sporting issue has not become a political crisis," Mali said in a statement released from the ICC headquarters here.
"We recognised from the outset that the umpiring in the second Test was below the very high standard we have come to expect from our Elite Panel [of umpires] and we noted with concern the enormous reaction to it and realised that we could potentially have a serious international diplomatic incident on our hands," admitted the South African.
India's tour plunged into rough weather after umpires West Indian Bucknor and Englishman Mark Benson gave several wrong decisions, as borne out by slow motion television replays, which contributed to India's 122-run defeat. It led to a furore not just in India, but also in most parts of the cricketing world.
This, with the Harbhajan issue, snowballed into a major controversy with the Indian cricket board formally asking the ICC Monday to rescind the off-spinner's ban and remove the two umpires from the last two Tests.
The ICC, sensing grave consequences, Tuesday replaced Bucknor with New Zealander Billy Bowden who will now stand with Pakistan's Asad Rauf. Bowden and Rauf will also officiate in the fourth Test Adelaide, starting on Jan 24, as planned before the series.
Mali defended the rare ICC decision to remove an umpire from his Test duty.
"We could easily have taken an inflexible stance and gone toe-to-toe with those who were calling for Steve's withdrawal, but instead we chose to adopt a more diplomatic and reasonable approach. And on balance it was the right thing to do, for the game and for the series," he reasoned.
"It is important to point out that no team has the right to object to any umpire appointment and this decision was taken entirely by the ICC for the best interests of cricket."
Mali said it's also worth reminding people that the decision to replace Bucknor had nothing to do with Harbhajan's upcoming Code of Conduct hearing.
"That process is ongoing and will run its full course," he asserted.
"As is his right, Harbhajan has appealed the guilty finding of the hearing. The appeals process has been part of the ICC Code of Conduct for seven years so there is nothing new or unusual about this."
The ICC on Wednesday appointed the eminent New Zealand High Court judge, Justice John Hansen, to hear the appeal.
"... the entire process will be carried out in an open and transparent way. No one will be able to complain that it was not a fair and impartial process," assured Mali.