Racism row leaves India on brink of quitting Australia

The international game lurched towards a major crisis yesterday when India threatened to suspend their tour of Australia. The threat comes in the wake of the International Cricket Council's decision to hit Harbhajan Singh, the Indian spinner, with a three-Test ban for making a racist remark to Andrew Symonds, the only non-white player in the Australian side, during the ill-tempered second Test in Sydney.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has appealed against the outcome of the hearing and the sentence imposed on Harbhajan, who was deemed guilty of calling Symonds a "monkey" by Mike Proctor, the match referee, during an on-field altercation on the third day of the Test. The BCCI will delay its decision to continue with the tour until the appeal has taken place, and instructed its players yesterday to remain in Sydney rather than travel to Canberra to prepare for Thursday's scheduled two-day match against an ACT Invitational XI.

Australia won the second Test by 122 runs in a controversial manner with just eight minutes of play remaining. It was a triumph that enabled Ricky Ponting's side to equal its own record run of 16 consecutive victories. But the match will now be remembered as much for several poor umpiring decisions most of which went against India as the wonderful cricket played and the ugly incident between Harbhajan and Symonds.

The exchange took place while Harbhajan was batting and Ponting, the Australian captain, reported the alleged comments to the match officials. Neither of the on-field umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, nor the match referee, with the aid of on-field microphones, heard what was said, and Harbhajan denies making the remark. Yet Proctor, in a case of one person's word against another, chose to come down on the side of the Australian. In a statement the BCCI said : "The incident involving India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds and the subsequent hearing by the ICC match referee and his conclusions are, to say the least, distressing. The Indian Board does not accept the findings of the match referee and has decided to challenge the unfair decision to suspend Harbhajan Singh as it deems it patently unfair.

"The Board will appeal to the ICC to review the decision of the match referee and suspend its operation until the appeal is disposed of. The Indian Board realises the game of cricket is paramount but so, too, is the honour of the India team and for that matter every Indian. To vindicate its position, the Board will fight the blatantly false and unfair slur of an Indian player."

James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, does not believe the tour will be cancelled and has asked the two captains, Ponting and Anil Kumble, to try to resolve the situation. Whether Kumble, who criticised the Australian players for the way in which they behaved during the Test, is willing to reconcile is another matter. "There are a number of difficult and complex issues that have arisen out of the match," said Sutherland. "I think that emotions have run high and I'm sure in the cold, hard, light of day the two captains can get together and discuss any residual differences that may be existing."

Racism has no place in sport, or anywhere for that matter, but there is a certain irony about Ponting reporting Harbhajan to the match officials. For years Australia have been the most confrontational and abusive side in cricket, a team prepared to go to any length to undermine the confidence and concentration of an opponent. Steve Waugh, the former Australia captain, described the tactic as "mental disintegration". It may have helped his side become the game's major force but it remains an unpalatable way of playing the game.

Ponting's actions have brought a mixed response from people in Australia. There are many who believe, and Australians say it more often than anyone else; "that what goes on in the middle should stay in the middle".

In the modern world this is a dated view but there are plenty of Aussies who believe that Ponting is hypocritical and has been soft for "dobbing" Harbhajan in trouble. There is also a fear here that from now on a complaint will be made to an umpire on every occasion an Aussie player swears or makes an abusive comment to an opponent. Had this been the case when Glenn McGrath and Merv Hughes were playing neither would have played in consecutive Tests.

The most serious matter, however, concerns the ICC and its umpires, and the ability of the governing body to police the game. At times it has been hard to work out who runs international cricket, the ICC or the BCCI. Cricket in India generates substantially more money than the rest of the cricketing world put together and without their support and assistance the ICC would be lost.

The incident brings back memories of The Oval in 2006, when Pakistan refused to return to the field of play after being accused of ball-tampering cheating. The actions of Inzamam-ul-Haq and his side, along with those of the umpires, resulted in a Test being abandoned. The reaction to this event, as with that at The Oval, will discourage officials from taking a firm stance on any major issue in the future, a policy that can only do further damage to the integrity of the game.

In an attempt to support its officials the ICC has resisted India's demands to drop Bucknor from next week's third Test in Perth. In India, Bucknor and Benson have been blamed for their side's defeat and the BCCI wanted the 61-year-old Jamaican prevented from officiating after a series of blunders in the second Test.

BEST OF ENEMIES: Australia and India's war of words

* 2 Oct 2007 After Australia beat India in a one-day international in Kochi, Harbhajan Singh criticises the tourists for their "vulgar" behaviour.

* 17 Oct As India win the final match, in Bombay, four of their fans are ejected for directing monkey chants at Australia's Andrew Symonds.

* 29 Dec Yuvraj Singh is cleared of dissent during the first Test in Melbourne following charges that he stood his ground for several seconds after umpire Billy Bowden gave him out.

* 4 Jan Harbhajan is charged with using abusive language during the second Test after Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, reports him to umpire Mark Benson following an altercation with Symonds.

* 6 Jan Harbhajan is banned for three games for allegedly calling Symonds a "monkey". India make counter-accusations against Brad Hogg. India captain, Anil Kumble, accuses the Australians of underhand tactics, while manager Chetan Chauhan is angry at some umpiring decisions.

* 7 Jan Indian officials halt the tour pending Harbhajan's appeal.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions