India ready for their next battle

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The Test series has been lost, but the battles are far from over for India ahead of Fridays Twenty20 International at the MCC.

Off the field, the first begins in the Federal Court here tomorrow when Justice John Hansen takes up Harbhajan Singh’s appeal against a three-Test ban.

A high court judge in New Zealand who has captained Hong Kong’s Kowloon Cricket Club, Justice Hansen is the International Cricket Council (ICC)-appointed appeals commissioner.

Two days have been set aside for the hearing and, if the racist slur on the off-spinner isn’t dropped, there’s every chance that Team India won’t play the one-off Twenty20 International versus Australia and the tri-series, where Sri Lanka is the third team.

Understandably, Test captain Anil Kumble declined to be drawn into a detailed comment. “We’ll cross the bridge when we get there....”

The Twenty20 face-off is in Melbourne on February 1, while the first ODI (against Australia) is in Brisbane on February 3.

To step up pressure on the powers that be, the ODI and Twenty20 players’ departure from Adelaide to Melbourne tomorrow afternoon has been put on hold.

For now, the specialists (Gautam Gambhir and Co.) who’ve reached Melbourne from India are staying put there.

“The decision on moving out from here will be taken in the morning,” assistant manager M.V. Sridhar told The Telegraph, some hours after confirming that the Mahendra Singh Dhonis would travel as scheduled.

According to top sources, the departure was put on hold after a late evening “meeting” in former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Inderjit Singh Bindra’s room at the Hyatt.

Some players are understood to have been present when Bindra kept receiving calls from the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai.

The going/not going drama is reminiscent of what happened in Sydney on January 7, hours after match referee Mike Procter held Harbhajan guilty of calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey”.

That morning, the team returned to the Radisson Hotel after having checked out and boarded the bus for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Canberra.

The team, eventually, left two days behind schedule.

Getting back to the appeal, apparently unhappy with the recording of evidence during the January 6 disciplinary hearing conducted by Procter, Justice Hansen has given his hearing the status of a “re-hearing”, wherein evidence will be produced afresh.

One understands that the ICC asked Channel 9, the host broadcaster, for the stump microphone’s transcript, and well-placed sources are convinced there’s nothing to nail Harbhajan.

“It will be one man’s word versus the other’s.... In such a scenario, Harbhajan has to at least get the benefit of doubt,” one of the top sources pointed out.

Witnesses, such as Sachin Tendulkar and Matthew Hayden, will appear again but they won’t be tendering evidence under oath. That’s in keeping with the practice in sports-specific hearings.

Harbhajan is being defended by Venkatesh Manohar, father of the BCCI’s president-elect Shashank Manohar. Symonds’ lawyer wasn’t identified till late this evening.

Operating out of the BCCI headquarters, Manohar will be on a video-link with Justice Hansen. At Manohar’s request, because of the time difference, the hearing will commence at 6am (IST) instead of an hour earlier.

The Indians, it may be recalled, have withdrawn their offensive-remark charge against Brad Hogg. That was done on the day (January 14) the hearing was to take place. Hogg had abused Kumble and Dhoni.

The Harbhajan issue has gone beyond that stage, but Australia’s stand will be watched with much interest. The buzz is that behind-the-scenes negotiations have been on for more than a fortnight.

As the appeal has the status of a re-hearing, nothing stops the Australians from either withdrawing/diluting the allegation they levelled.

It’s to be seen whether the Indians, having taken the high moral ground, find themselves all alone.

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