Australians furious about Harbhajan decision

The exoneration of Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh on racial-abuse charges was heavily criticised in Australia on Wednesday as a blatant demonstration of India’s power in world cricket.

While Cricket Australia worked with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to broker a resolution to the impasse over Harbhajan’s racism charge, newspapers claimed the Australian body participated in the joint effort under duress.

As recently as Monday, a BCCI official said India would abandon the limited-overs section of its Australian tour, starting on February 3, if Harbhajan’s appeal against a three-Test ban for racial abuse did not succeed.

Australian newspapers reported on Wednesday that India had gone as far as chartering a plane to fly its team home if the appeal hearing did not produce the result the visitors wanted.

It was also reported that Cricket Australia faced being sued for up to Aus$60-million by broadcasters who held the rights to televise tour matches in India.

Harbhajan pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of abusive language at the appeal in Adelaide and was fined about Aus$3 000, or 50% of his match fee from the Sydney Test in which he was alleged to have called Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds, who is of West Indian descent, a “monkey”.

The guilty plea followed an agreement between the Australian and Indian bodies on the evidence they would jointly submit to the hearing, chaired by New Zealand High Court Judge John Hansen.

The Australian national newspaper, in an article headlined “Cricket’s day of shame”, quoted an unnamed Australian player as saying: “The thing that [annoys us] is that it shows how much power India has. The Aussie guys aren’t going to make it up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate.
Money talks.”

India has become the financial powerhouse of world cricket, generating massive broadcasting and sponsorship revenues that support the international game. The International Cricket Council has been seen to have bowed to Indian pressure in several recent decisions, including the removal of umpire Steve Bucknor from the recent Test series when his rulings angered the Indian team.

Cricket commentator Peter Roebuck, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, said India’s threat to fly its players home if the appeal failed was “among the most nakedly aggressive actions taken in the history of a notoriously fractious game”.

“If this is the way the Indian board intends to conduct its affairs hereafter, then God help cricket,” Roebuck wrote. “All around, it has been a bad business. Over the years, India have often been represented by gentlemen with high principles and a strong sense of sportsmanship. Australia have not been so fortunate. But it seems that power has corrupted.”

A poll conducted by the Sky News television network showed 57% of respondents disagreed with the appeal decision while 43% supported it. The number of participants was not available.

In the Australian newspaper, Peter Lalor wrote that India had “pulled out every stop” to ensure the ICC and Cricket Australia “caved in” to its demands. “India, the team that bleated about the spirit of cricket after being beaten in Sydney, has again held a gun to the game’s head and had its demands met,” he said.

Australian Governor General Michael Jeffery, the British queen’s representative in Australia, appealed in a radio interview for a return to courtesy on the cricket field.

“While we should be playing the game tough and hard and all of that sort of thing, I think there’s also a need to really take care of the fundamental courtesies and good manners,” Jeffery said.—Sapa-AP

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