Bhajji denies racial abuse allegation
After offie frustrates Aussies with feisty 63, they say he abused them racially. ICC hearing today, reports Kadambari Murali.cricket Updated: Jan 04, 2008 23:47 IST
A day that India’s batsmen dominated thoroughly ended in shock and disbelief for the visitors after the Australians lodged an official complaint saying Harbhajan Singh had abused one of their players racially. Sources said the player is Andrew Symonds, with whom the off-spinner had a verbal exchange on the field.
Harbhajan is bewildered and upset. The Indian team is furious; they say the charges are utter rubbish, and will back Bhajji to the end. And there is a strong feeling here that the Australians, suddenly finding themselves in what may turn out to be a tight corner, have thrown a low blow.
The Australians would in fact, appear to have enough reasons to target Harbhajan. He was a thorn in their side for nearly 30 overs after lunch. He smashed a feisty 63 that dashed India into an unlikely lead, allowed Sachin Tendulkar to reach century number 38, and took his side to a situation from where they can make a fight of this Test. And when Australia bat on a spinning track on Saturday, they would like Bhajji to be in an angry and disturbed mental frame.
Following the Australian complaint, Bhajji has been charged under Level 3.3 of the ICC Code of Conduct. It is a very serious offence, for which he can be banned for two to four Tests or four to eight ODIs. Bhajji will have to appear before match referee Mike Proctor after close of play on Saturday.
ICC’s James Fitzgerald said, "The charge was made by umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor on the basis of a complaint made by Ricky Ponting, after the 116th over of the Indian innings, during which Harbhajan was batting." The ICC did not name the player Bhajji is supposed to have abused.
Bhajji’s run-in with Symonds was of course, on TV. At the end of the Brett Lee over (when Bhajji was on 55, Tendulkar 119, and India just 12 short of Australia’s 463), he was seen beckoning Symonds. Both players were seen talking to each other, and then Matthew Hayden, Sachin, Ponting and Bhajji all seemed to be discussing something. Then umpire Mark Benson intervened and seemed to say something to Bhajji, who shook his head.
Local media quoted unnamed Aussie players as saying Harbhajan had pushed Lee, and it all started then. Nothing of the sort was seen on TV, and the Indian camp denied the charge.
Harbhajan told Hindustan Times he had absolutely no idea of what was going on. He denied having said anything remotely racist to Symonds. "I just want to concentrate on the game," he said.
Team sources said Harbhajan had beckoned Symonds to ask him what he was mouthing at him from a distance. "I understand that Symonds may have told him to f*** off and he may have said the same. It was nothing out of the ordinary," said a player.
India’s team manager Chetan Chauhan said the fact that a "complaint had been made was disappointing". He said it spoilt what had been a great game, adding that the timing could be potentially "distracting" to India, who are in a good position in the Test.
"I don’t know the exact nature of the charge," Chauhan said. "Whether it is about racial abuse or not. But Harbhajan would not make any remark of that nature. If he did say anything at all, it would have been in the heat of the moment, in retaliation for continuous aggravation and extreme provocation by some of the Australian players."
He said that the Aussies had been "continuously subjecting Harbhajan to taunts" because he was batting so well against them. "Things happen on the field, words are exchanged. It is ridiculous to take matters to this level when they themselves say pretty much as they please. But we will go to any length to the best of our ability to protect our players from unjust accusations," he said. "We will bring in witnesses if need be and strongly object to anything that we find unfair."
Tendulkar, whose brilliant, unbeaten 154, which propelled India to a 69-run lead over Australia was sadly overshadowed by the ugliness at the end, said later that he didn’t think there was an "issue". "There were couple of lines exchanged. It keeps happening virtually every day. I don’t think it’s that big an issue. As far as I’m concerned, if the games move on and the players don’t cross their limits, it’s fine. It’s good for the spectators also. Sometimes it’s humorous and sometimes it’s funny."
Asked whether what Symonds had said was fun, he replied: "Couple of things. It was about friendship. It was about... ‘You seem to be very friendly with our bowlers’, that’s what he said. ‘Why don’t you be friends with me now? I am a bowler as well’."
With the complaint however, any supposedly friendly overtures will be off. It is all far too ugly.