Cricket Australia has defended Ricky Ponting's team, insisting that they play "hard but fair", following mounting criticism of their on-field behaviour.
India accused Australia of lacking sportsmanship in the second Test, which ended here on Sunday. But Cricket Australia's chief executive, James Sutherland, said yesterday: "The team are not perfect but get it right a lot more than they used to. It's Test cricket, not tiddlywinks."
The India team arrived in Canberra yesterday for a match against an ACT Invitational XI, hoping to put the past week behind them and resume playing. The tour was suspended for two days when the Board of Control for Cricket in India ordered the players to remain in Sydney in protest at the three-match ban imposed on the spinner Harbhajan Singh for allegedly making a racist remark to the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds.
The brand value of Australian cricketers is expected to suffer in India, according to advertising experts. Ponting and the fast bowler Brett Lee are among several Australians who endorse leading brands, appear in sponsored television shows and write syndicated newspaper col-umns. With most leading Australians having signed up for the Twenty20 league that starts in April, Habeeb Nizamudin, a growth officer of the media planning agency Lodestar Universal said: "The whole country is against them. This is definitely going to impact on their brand value."
The criticism of Australia's conduct has spread to other sports, with three members of the country's Hall of Fame calling for the team's "moral compass to be returned". John Bertrand, a sailor who won the America's Cup in 1983, is the chairman of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and he wants a meeting with Cricket Australia to demand that the players show more respect to opponents.
Bertrand has joined the respected athletes Herb Elliott and Robert de Castella in believing that the cricketers are too arrogant. "Sport is only sport," he said, "it's not war."