‘Lack of evidence cleared Bhajji’
Sunday, 03 February 2008

Agence France-Presse . Adelaide

Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was cleared of racially abusing Australia’s Andrew Symonds due to lack of evidence, rather than any external pressure, appeals commissioner John Hansen said on Wednesday.

Harbhajan was cleared by the New Zealand judge at an International Cricket Council appeal hearing on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation over whether India would cancel their tour if the suspension stood.

The decision was followed by media reports that Cricket Australia and the Board of Cricket Control for India had brokered a deal that would see the charges downgraded.

Hansen downgraded the racism charge to one of using general obscene, offensive or insulting language, overturned a suspension and fined Harbhajan 50 per cent of his match fee, but said it was because he could be not be certain that he called Symonds, Australia’s only black player, a ‘big monkey’.

‘I have not felt under any pressure because of such media reports and I would never be influenced or succumb to such pressure, real or imagined,’ he said. ‘It is incorrect to suggest that there was some sort of an agreement reached between Australian and Indian cricket authorities that I simply rubber-stamped.

‘I also wish to add that while I was aware of the media furore surrounding this matter, no-one has attempted to apply direct pressure to obtain an outcome.’ Hansen said it was clear the Australians – Symonds, Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden – were sure the comment had been made, but noted Indian star Sachin Tendulkar was equally adamant it hadn’t, and pointed to complicating factors that cast doubt on the trio’s evidence.

The judge noted they could not recall other comments made during the incident, and said the complicating factors of ‘different languages, accents and cultures’ cast doubt over what transpired, especially with Harbhajan immediately denying the claim to umpire Mark Benson.

‘I need to be sure and if I am left with a dishonest and reasonable uncertainty, then I must find in favour of Mr Singh,’ he said. ‘There was a direct conflict as to whether the word was used. ‘There are cultural accent and language differences and it is accepted some of Mr Singh’s remarks were in his own language.

‘There remains a possibility of a misunderstanding in this heated situation. ‘I have to be sure the words were said – I have not been persuaded to the necessary level required the words were said.’ Hansen pointed out that Symonds had aggressively and unnecessarily instigated the verbal clash with Harbhajan.

He added he was surprised the Australians could not recall other words exchanged with Harbhajan during the incident, given their recollection of the alleged comment. But Hansen said Harbhajan was lucky not to escape a stiffer penalty, possibly a suspension, after ICC blunders meant the spinner’s suspended one-match ban in 2001 for showing dissent at an umpire’s decision only came to light after the hearing.

‘At the end of the day Mr Singh can feel himself fortunate that he has reaped the benefit of these database and human errors,’ Hansen said. Harbhajan played the final Test pending a decision on his appeal.

World champions Australia won the series 2-1. India and Australia – between whom there was animosity throughout much of the series, even before the Symonds-Harbhajan confrontation – face each other Friday in Melbourne in a Twenty20 match.

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