Harbhajan cleared of racial abuse charge
Thursday, 31 January 2008

Agence France-Presse . Adelaide

Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was cleared Tuesday of racially abusing Australia's Andrew Symonds, the International Cricket Council said.

Harbhajan pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of using abusive language and was fined 50 per cent of his match fee by appeals commissioner John Hansen, ICC spokesman Sami-ul-Hasan told reporters in Adelaide.

The spinner was originally handed a three-Test ban by match referee Mike Procter after being found guilty of calling Symonds, Australia's only black player, a 'monkey' during the acrimonious Sydney Test earlier this month.

The ICC spokesman said Hansen, a New Zealand High court judge, was convinced Harbhajan was not guilty of a racial slur after a hearing lasting more than five hours.

'Justice Hansen said that he was convinced that on all evidence submitted before him the charge of a level 3.3 offence was not proven, but that Harbhajan should be charged with a level 2.8 offence,' he said.

'Harbhajan pleaded guilty to this charge, and on hearing submissions on the penalty, Justice Hansen imposed a fine of 50 per cent of his match fee.' The appeal decision clears the way for India to continue their tour of Australia where they are due to play a Twenty20 international in Melbourne on Friday before starting a tri-series on Sunday that also features Sri Lanka.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India had earlier threatened to abandon the tour if Harbhajan was not cleared of the racial abuse charge. 'The one-day series will go on as scheduled,' BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah told AFP after the appeal decision was announced.

'Harbhajan has now only been punished for using obscene language and will be fined 50 per cent of his match fees,' he said. Indian media reports suggested the BCCI and Cricket Australia had worked out a compromise to drop the charges against Harbhajan and salvage the one-day series.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting and senior Indian player Sachin Tendulkar reportedly wrote letters to Hansen asking him to downgrade the charges.

Australia's national AAP news agency said a shared version of events, signed by all players involved on both sides, was presented to Hansen. Harbhajan, Tendulkar, Ponting, Symonds, Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden all attended the hearing at the Federal Court in Adelaide.

India had initially threatened to pull out of the tour after Harbhajan was banned, but relented when the ICC withdrew controversial umpire Steve Bucknor from the Test series and agreed to hear the bowler's appeal. Harbhajan played the final Test pending a decision on his appeal.

World champions Australia won the series 2-1. Following the verdict, Indian media manager MV Sridhar read out a joint statement from Cricket Australia and the BCCI at the Indian team hotel saying that Symonds and Harbhajan had resolved their differences.

He also said that both captains were satisfied with the outcome of the hearing. Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young said: 'All parties will move on with the cricket. The game is the important thing.' Symonds' manager Matt Fearon said his client also wanted to move on from the incident.

'I haven't spoken to him, but Andrew's feeling and mine as well is that it's not something he wants to continue talking about,' he said. 'Everything that needed to be said has been said and the decision is not really in Andrew's control.' Transcripts were released after the hearing of recordings from the stump microphones which captured some of the verbal clash.

Symonds is heard telling Harbhajan at the end of an over: 'Go and yell at your teammates ... You called me monkey again.' Hayden then said: 'You've got a witness now champ' before approaching the Indian and telling him: 'That's the last time.' Harbhajan replied: 'No listen, he started it' to which Hayden responded: 'Doesn't matter mate, it's racial vilification mate. It's a shit word and you know it.

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