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Harbhajan Singh banned for three Tests

SYDNEY: Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was on Sunday banned for three Test matches after the ICC Match Referee Mike Procter upheld the Australian charge that he had racially abused their all-rounder Andrew Symonds, a decision against which the Indian team will appeal within 24 hours.

Procter gave a marathon six-and-a-half hour hearing to Harbhajan, who denied the charge and was supported by skipper Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, manager Chetan Chauhan and media manager MV Sridhar during the deliberations.

Procter also heard Symonds, who was backed by Australian captain Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke along with team manager Steve Bernard, who attended the hearing to testify against the Indian spinner.

After the hearing, there was no official word about the verdict but sources said that the three-Test ban was being slapped on Harbhajan, who is fully backed by the BCCI and the team.

The appeal will be made to the Commissioner of Appeals and pending the appeal, the off-spinner can continue to play.

After the hearing, Sridhar had said that they had not ruled out returning home, but the BCCI later played down the threat.

Meanwhile, the Indians have also filed a complaint against Australian spinner Brad Hogg for using abusive language during the ill-tempered second Test.

The Indian team lodged the complaint against Hogg during the hearing, giving a new twist to the simmering feud between the two sides.

BCCI officials promptly said that they would appeal against the three-match ban imposed on Harbhajan. Board vice-president Rajiv Shukla said they had not yet received any communication from the International Cricket Council regarding the ban.

“Nothing has been communicated to us yet. But if a ban is imposed, we will appeal against it within 24 hours. Harbhajan will appeal and the BCCI will also appeal,” Shukla said.

BCCI’s chief administrative manager Ratnakar Shetty said it was an “unfortunate” development.

“There was no evidence against Harbhajan so I don’t know how they could arrive at such a conclusion.”

When asked what the Aussies brought to the hearing which resulted in a verdict in their favour, Shetty said “we are not concerned about what the Australians think.”

Harbhajan was charged under rule 3.3 of the ICC’s Code of Conduct that deals with using language or gestures that insults a person on the basis of race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin.

The off-spinner vehemently denied saying anything racial during the altercation.

Sridhar said both sides were together during the hearing into the alleged racial abuse.

“We are extremely disappointed since we feel that there is no evidence against Harbhajan,” Sridhar said after the hearing.

The three-match ban came as a surprise for the Indians as both the on-field umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson had gone on record as saying that they had not heard anything offensive being said. The hearing was originally scheduled for Saturday but Procter agreed to a request by the Indian management to defer it by a day.

Harbhajan was charged last night under Level 3 of the International Cricket Council’s Code of Conduct following his run-in with Andrew Symonds at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The charge was laid by match umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor after the third day’s play following a complaint from Australia captain Ricky Ponting.

The complaint was made by Ponting after the 116th over of India’s first innings, prior to which Harbhajan is alleged to have made a racist comment directed at Symonds.

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