As the Indian team camps in Sydney amid the infamous row over umpiring that cost it the second Test and the subsequent episode involving Harbhajan Singh, Kadambari Murali tracks the events.
Sunday, 6:45 pm
Ricky Ponting’s press conference. Ponting says he has full confidence in the umpires, gets angry when asked about the bumped catch he claimed, almost says that the questioner leave the room if he questions his integrity. Says the match was played in the spirit of the game. Says gentleman's agreement between him and Kumble to take a fielder's opinion at face value in the case of checking on whether a catch is clean.
Anil Kumble’s press conference. Kumble is distressed, very angry, but very calm. Repeatedly says he cannot comment on umpiring decisions but says enough to indicate the team's anger and displeasure over them. Says whatever happened was there for the world to see. Confirms the agreement, but says it was based on the assumption that players would be honest (what is left unsaid is hugely important). And then, the big one, says: "Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game".
Sunday, 7:45pm to Monday, 2am
Mike Procter hearing. The Harbhajan Singh race hearing with Mike Procter begins. Australia have six people: Ponting, Gilchrist, Symonds, Hayden, Clarke and manager Steve Barnard. Umpires Benson and Bucknor are there. India are represented by Kumble, Harbhajan, Tendulkar, manager Chetan Chauhan and assistant manager MV Sridhar. Procter is assisted by English lawyer Nigel Peters. Symonds makes a charge, Harbhajan denies it. Lengthy cross-examination follows. They watch the tapes, there is no audio-video evidence supporting Symonds. Yet, Procter indicates to the Indians that he is not favourable towards them. They still hope he will see their point.
Kumble, Harbhajan and Tendulkar arrive at the team hotel, driven back by local liaison Chris. They are exhausted and hungry. They have had just coffee, biscuits and fruit over the past few hours, no dinner. They've been out from early morning, played a match and lost it. Asked about how the hearing went, they say they are hoping it went okay. They are officially gagged and cannot comment on it.
Sridhar and Chauhan return to the hotel in a taxi and are met outside by team travel coordinator Russel Radhakrishnan. They speak in the taxi a while and then walk in. They have spoken briefly to the media camped at the SCG. Both are exhausted and depressed, quite angry with all that has happened. Both keep reiterating one point, "There is no evidence at all, so he has to be presumed innocent". They go up to the rooms, calls are coming in from BCCI officials in India, asking how it all went. Dinner is being ordered.
The calls start coming in from India, channels are running stories that Harbhajan has received a three-match ban. There is utter shock, because the team management here is yet to receive any official notification of the verdict. Chauhan says he'll call India, the BCCI confirms that it has been intimated by the ICC that Harbhajan will be banned. The calls from local channels begin too.
The manager and assistant manager go downstairs to address a surreal press conference. Everyone is exhausted and the atmosphere is tense, emotionally fraught. It's been a long, dramatic day. The management confirms that the BCCI has been notified of the ban and when the order is received, it will be appealed against immediately. Russel reminds everyone to have their bags down early, as the baggage will leave for Canberra in a separate bus. There is no talk of not going to Canberra then. The team is scheduled to leave at 10:30am.
The news begins to filter through to players coming down for breakfast that Harbhajan has been banned. Most were asleep when the news was announced. There is an air of absolute disbelief all around. And shock and outrage about how he can be banned when there was no proof. It is decided that the players will meet to thrash out the issue and discuss a plan of action. Everyone is very certain they cannot take this lying down. They request that this be a meeting of only the players --- no coaches, managers, support staff.
The meeting begins in a room off the main hotel lobby, even while wives, friends, the rest of the Indian camp, settles down in the lobby itself to discuss what's happened. All across the lobby, there are little groups of people reading the papers, discussing the game, the umpiring, the ban. The meeting is stretching. Around 11am, Chauhan is asked to head to the meeting, he disappears too.
Monday, around 11:30am
The players stream out, looking solemn, somewhat tense. They are absolutely livid about the racist tag on Harbhajan. They say that if that is not sorted, it is something he will have to live with. They are solidly behind him and have decided something and are determined to see it through. Some meet their kids and wives and start walking towards the bus, the rest visit the rest rooms and follow. The media contingent outside has swelled. Flashbulbs go off as Harbhajan, flanked by Punjab teammate VRV Singh and rookie Pankaj Singh, walks out.
The bus is still parked outside the hotel. Something's happening, though no one's quite sure why they haven't left. Then it becomes clear. The management is apparently waiting for word from the BCCI. Irfan starts racing around the lobby with Dravid's young son. Dravid and wife Vijeta are watching them indulgently. The players start coming out of the coach. They have said they do not want to travel to Canberra unless they have access to Procter's written order on Harbhajan. They want all the procedural issues sorted out and the appeal watertight. Some players go off to eat at a nearby foodcourt, leaving from the hotel's rear entrance. The hotel is reorganising rooms and key cards. It looks like a long wait.
Monday 2pm onwards
Most players, tired by now, go back to the rooms, even as the news of BCCI officials rushing to Delhi for a meeting comes in. Some opt to stay put upstairs, a few roam around. Harbhajan, hungry now but wary of the media following him, comes down with VRV and disappears from another entrance. He returns after a couple of hours. Ganguly is walking around with his wife and daughter, chatting with people.
After 3pm, news trickles in from Melbourne of the James Sutherland presser there. The CA chief has said he believes the tour will continue and that Ponting and Kumble must sit down and settle their differences. In the evening, Jaffer and Karthik come down with their wives, sit a while in the lobby, go back. RP is walking around with Pankaj Singh, very chuffed after getting the news of UP's reaching the Ranji final. No one has any news. At 6:30pm, Sridhar reads out a statement from the BCCI, protesting the umpiring decisions, the charge on Harbhajan and saying they will appeal it. We are informed that the players will stay put in Sydney till further instructions from the Board. The tour is on hold.