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Last Updated: Monday, 7 January 2008, 15:36 GMT
Indian cricketers victims of injustice?
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Harbhajan Singh in Sydney
Harbhajan Singh - could miss the rest of the series
The bus that just would not budge provided the Sydney press corps with the first concrete clue that the Indian cricket tour was in jeopardy.

It was parked outside the team hotel in the centre of the city, loaded with luggage and equipment, and scheduled to begin the journey to Canberra, where the Indians were due to play on Friday.

This is not the first time, of course, that an Australian coach has been at the centre of an Indian cricketing controversy.

As a resident of India at the time, I well remember the burnt effigies of Greg "the guru" Chappell, whose unhappy tenure in charge of the team ended in abject first-round failure at the World Cup in the Caribbean.

This motionless coach also hinted of a possible premature departure, not from the kerb but from the country. First, the Indians unloaded their baggage. Then, at a crowded news conference, they unloaded their seething frustrations.

'Blatantly false'

They clearly believe they're the victims of two injustices: hapless umpiring, which cost them the game, and a ruling from the match referee Mike Procter which could cost Harbhajan Singh any further involvement in the series.

Andrew Symonds (right)
Symonds has sometimes clashed with Indian players

There's little doubt as to the seriousness of the charge: of calling the black Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds a "monkey", an echo of the ugly chants he received from elements within the crowd when he toured India last October.

But in the absence of any incriminating audio evidence, the Indians have called the ruling "blatantly false" and an "unfair slur".

Indians reading this might be surprised to learn they have a surprising measure of the support from the Australian cricketing public.

Few would defend the bowler's use of a racial slur, but the radio talk shows were full this morning of fans who thought that Ricky Ponting's team had contributed to the unsporting climate in which the incident took place.

Sledging has long been a part of the Australian cricketing armoury. The aim is to get in your opponents face. But it's leaving an increasingly unpleasant stench in the nostrils. Many here feel that a certain ugliness has crept into the Australians' play.

Asked whether the Australians had taken sledging too far, a snap text message poll on one of the news channels here suggested a 50/50 split - or should that be Fifty50, in the modern short-hand of the game?

Racist slur

One would have thought that Andrew Symonds, the wronged-party, would have been the recipient of a wave of sympathy.

But many have questioned why he told reporters that he was legitimately caught out in the early stages of his match-winning first innings, but did not "walk" because the umpire failed to raise his finger.

Indian crowd allegedly making racist gestures in October 2007
Indian crowds allegedly taunted Andrew Symonds last year

Many, if not most, modern-day cricketers would have done the same. But it's talking to reporters about it afterwards, with a hint of glee, which has infringed many Australians' deep-held sense of fair play.

Many in the Australia-based Indian diaspora have come forward claiming that Harbhajan is not guilty of a racist slur - and that the controversy is the product of a cultural misunderstanding.

"Considering that the Monkey God is one of the revered idols of Hindu mythology and worshipped by millions, it's surprising it was considered a racist term," said Raj Natarajan, the president of the Sydney-based United Indian Association.

With respect, that is a complete red herring. Andrew Symonds hated being the target of moronic monkey chants when he toured India in October. Unquestionably, Anil Kumble's side would have known that.

My guess is that the tour will eventually go ahead, pretty much as planned. It's vital for these two cricketing super powers, one rich in talent, the other with an abundance of television viewers and the revenues they generate.

While there's a great deal of national pride at stake here, there's also a vast amount of money.

India tour of Australia at risk

Tour at risk after Harbhajan ban
07 Jan 08 |  Cricket
Indian fans face racism charges
18 Oct 07 |  South Asia
Ponting wants action on 'abuse'
13 Oct 07 |  Cricket
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11 Oct 07 |  Cricket
Australia in India 2007
14 Oct 07 |  International Teams


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