India renew pull-out threat over racism row

India will abandon the tour of Australia if spinner Harbhajan Singh is not cleared of racial abuse charges, a top Indian official said on Tuesday.

Harbhajan was handed a three-Test ban by match referee Mike Procter after being found guilty of racially abusing Australia’s Andrew Symonds during the acrimonious Sydney Test earlier this month.

Harbhajan appealed Procter’s decision and New Zealand High Court Judge John Hansen began a two-day sitting in Adelaide on Tuesday to decide the off-spinner’s fate.

“If a clean chit is not given to Harbhajan, the Indian board’s decision is to call the team home,” Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) vice-president Lalit Modi told reporters.

India, who completed a four-Test series on Monday, are due to play a Twenty20 international against Australia in Melbourne on Friday before starting a tri-series on Sunday that also features Sri Lanka.

BCCI president Sharad Pawar refused to elaborate on the pull-out threat but stressed the racial charges against Harbhajan were “unacceptable”.

“Indians are not racist and do not believe in racism,” said Pawar, a senior federal minister. “We are completely behind our team in Australia. The charge against Harbhajan is unacceptable.”

Indian media reports suggested a compromise was being worked out by the BCCI and Cricket Australia to salvage the one-day series and hinted that the racial charges against Harbhajan will be dropped.

India had threatened to pull out of the tour after Harbhajan’s ban, but relented when the International Cricket Council withdrew controversial umpire Steve Bucknor from the Test series and also agreed to hear the bowler’s appeal.

Harbhajan played the final Test pending a decision on his appeal.
World champions Australia won the series 2-1.—AFP

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