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Honour at play
- Ultimatum to ICC: board wants Bhajji racism blot, Bucknor off
Steve Bucknor (top) in Calcutta in 2005 and Harbhajan Singh (above) in Sydney on Monday. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh and AP

Calcutta, Jan. 7: The Indian board has brought into play the “honour” of “every Indian” and virtually set the International Cricket Council a 48-hour ultimatum to rescue the Australia tour.

The board today appealed the three-Test ban on Harbhajan Singh for alleged racist abuse and, according to sources, said it would like a decision before the tour match in Canberra begins on Thursday.

“Then the tour will go ahead,” a Board of Control for Cricket in India official told The Telegraph. He said if the ICC dilly-dallied, there was a “good enough” chance of the team being brought back in protest.

Although no official suggestion has been made about a possible tour cancellation, the BCCI mounted pressure this morning by dramatically holding the team back in Sydney just as it prepared to leave for Canberra.

The players had checked out of their hotel and most had boarded the team hotel when the BCCI brass called manager Chetan Chauhan to say the team should stay put in Sydney.

The board has three demands. One, the ban must go. Two, the ban statement must drop the word “racist”. Three, Steve Bucknor must be dropped as umpire for the third Test in Perth.

ICC rules allow up to nine days for an appeal to be decided — two days for appointing the appeals commissioner, who then has seven days to decide.

The ban on Harbhajan, clamped for allegedly calling Andrew Symonds a monkey, is “unfair and unacceptable” and the racist tag is a “false slur”, a board media release said.

“The game of cricket is paramount but so, too, is the honour of the Indian team and, for that matter, every Indian,” it added.

The players, led by Sachin Tendulkar, have had an internal meeting where they expressed solidarity with Harbhajan. Sachin is offended that match referee Mike Procter didn’t “respect” his testimony that he didn’t hear his batting partner say anything offensive, the sources said.

There is no audio evidence against Harbhajan. The Australian media have quoted Procter as saying the umpires, Bucknor and Mark Benson, had heard nothing. Nor had Australia captain Ricky Ponting or vice-captain Adam Gilchrist.

Procter simply decided to accept the word of Symonds and teammates Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden.

“The matter has become an issue between the ICC and the BCCI, and the world body must realise that the affiliates are more important than a match referee,” a top BCCI source said.

There is no instance of an umpire being replaced, though. When Darrell Hair was banned after the forfeit fiasco, the executive board needed to pass a resolution with two-thirds majority.

An ICC spokesman said: “The standard Test match-playing conditions… state that neither team has a right to object to an umpire’s appointment. There is little the ICC can do.”

The demand on Bucknor is unconnected with the ban appeal and racism row, which the board took beyond cricket.

It said the Indian government’s policy was “to fight racial discrimination at every level and… for the Indian board, anti-racial stance is an article of faith as it is for the entire nation which fought the apartheid policies”.

But the Prime Minister, asked for his reactions on the row, ducked. Manmohan Singh said it would not be “proper for me to comment” without the full details, and added that the BCCI was an autonomous body.

On the streets, political parties tried to cash in on the fan outrage by joining the protests and burning effigies. BJP workers shouted slogans against Bucknor and Ponting outside the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai while board chief Sharad Pawar’s NCP burnt the Jamaican umpire’s effigies in Thane.

The ban appeal is learnt to be lying with ICC in-house lawyer Urvashi Naidoo. The rules say that once an appeal is lodged, the cricketer may continue playing till the verdict is given.

Delhi cricket chief Arun Jaitley and board vice-president Sashank Manohar, both lawyers, helped draft the appeal, the sources said.

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