Indian tour of Australia back on schedule

India’s cricketers arrived in Canberra on Wednesday hoping to put the drama of the past week behind them and resume playing after being cleared to continue their troubled tour of Australia.

The tour was suspended for two days when the Indian board (BCCI) ordered the players to remain in Sydney in protest at the three-match ban imposed on Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh.

There were fears the tour would be cancelled altogether until the Indian officials agreed to proceed after the International Cricket Council (ICC) bowed to pressure and made a number of significant concessions.

There was one final drama when the team bus sideswiped a parked car as they left their Sydney hotel but they arrived safely in Canberra and immediately headed to practice for a three-day match against the ACT XI starting on Thursday.

“I think it’s important to move on, cricket is larger than individuals and I respect that and it’s important that we move on,” India captain Anil Kumble told reporters in Canberra.

“The focus for us is to ensure that we get the best possible out of this game. I have great respect and regard for all the players who play for Australia.”

Kumble’s team had spent the previous day playing volleyball at Bondi Beach after the tour was thrown into chaos following last week’s ill-tempered second Test in Sydney.

Australia won by 122 runs to lead the four-match series 2-0 but the game was overshadowed by a series of controversies both on and off the field.

Harbhajan was found guilty of racially abusing Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds, but denied the charges and lodged an appeal.

The BCCI then threatened to abort the tour unless the ICC dropped the charges but the sport’s governing body said normal appeal processes had to be followed.

Umpire sacked

The ICC did, however, agree to a number of concessions.

Harbhajan was allowed to play until the appeal is heard and West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor was sacked following criticism of his performance.

The ICC also charged Australian all-rounder Brad Hogg with abusive language while a mediator was appointed to try and resolve the bitter dispute between the rival teams.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said the ICC had reluctantly agreed to the Indian demands to axe Bucknor to save the tour and stop the row from escalating.

“We could have gone in banging the table and playing ‘who blinks first,’ we could have turned what is already an international incident into an international crisis,” Speed told the Nine Network on Wednesday.

“What we have elected to do…is to take one of the issues out of play. We put a new umpiring team in place, and we start again from the umpiring perspective in Perth and hopefully focus on the matters on the pitch rather than exacerbating the crisis.”

Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland said he supported moves to arrange a peace meeting between Ricky Ponting and Kumble but defended the players against claims they had behaved poorly.

“Test cricket is what is being played, it is not tiddlywinks,” Sutherland told reporters in Melbourne.
- Reuters

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