India's cricket tour of Australia hangs in balance

Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 11:17 [IST]
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India's tour of Oz hangs in balance

SYDNEY: India's cricket team continued to reject racism charges against Harbhajan Singh on Tuesday as their tour of Australia hung in the balance.

Spokesman M.V. Sridhar denied Singh had called Andrew Symonds, Australia's only black player, a "monkey" after the bowler was slapped with a three-match ban.

Indian officials have ordered their players to remain in Sydney, delaying a scheduled trip to Canberra, as they appeal against the ban handed out after the explosive second Test here.

"We're very clear that Harbhajan has not said that," Sridhar told reporters as the team made an impromptu visit to Sydney's famous Bondi Beach.

The team had been scheduled to travel to Canberra Monday to prepare for a tour match but remained here on orders from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), raising fears over the tour's future.

India were also upset over a number of questionable umpiring decisions and the behaviour of the Australians, whom they accused of bad sportsmanship.

"The Indian board realises the game of cricket is paramount but so too is the honour of the Indian team. To vindicate its position, the board will fight the blatantly false and unfair slur on an Indian player," said a BCCI statement released on Monday.

Officials shed no light on whether the tour would resume, although Singh nodded his head and said "yes" when asked if he was confident about successfully appealing the suspension.

Sridhar said it was possible Indian captain Anil Kumble would meet his Australian counterpart Ricky Ponting in an attempt to defuse tensions.

Australian batsman Mike Hussey said such a meeting could be helpful.

"I hope that Ricky and Anil can get together... and we sit down and work it out because it has been disappointing the way this has all played out," he told reporters Tuesday.

Many Australian newspapers on Tuesday made difficult reading for the national team, branding the players "boorish" and "arrogant" and with one demanding Ponting's removal as captain.

"He turned a group of professional cricketers into a pack of wild dogs," wrote the Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Roebuck wrote, citing the failure by some players to walk when clearly out, verbal abuse and strutting victory celebrations.

But Hussey defended Ponting and said he had the backing of the team.

"I can say Ricky Ponting has got the full support of everybody in our team," he said.

"The way Ricky leads the team, we go out there to play the game as hard as we can but also as fairly as we can."

He also disputed Kumble's suggestion after the second Test that only one team had been playing in the spirit of the game.

"That was a surprising comment and I was a little bit surprised because in my opinion that game was played in fantastic spirit ... we never stepped outside the rules of the game," Hussey said.

The match in Canberra against an ACT Invitation XI is supposed to begin Thursday but organisers said Cricket Australia had not announced whether it will go ahead.

No date has yet been set to hear Singh's appeal, with unconfirmed reports in Australia that the Indian camp submitted the documentation to start the process early Tuesday afternoon.

Officials, players and fans will be hoping the impasse can be resolved in time to save the third Test in Perth beginning January 16.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph estimated Cricket Australia could lose 50 million dollars (43.5 million US) if India withdraws from the tour and the sporting body has to pay compensation to television broadcasters.

Making the most of the unplanned rest day, the Indian players indulged in a game of beach volleyball with local surf lifesavers at Bondi before having lunch at a surfside restaurant.

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