Harbhajan likely to escape punishment

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Sydney, Jan 5 (UNI) Under fire for allegedly making racial slur against all-rounder Andrew Symonds, Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh may escape punishment because the onfield umpires did not hear anything suspicious.

International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee Mike Proctor said neither of the on-field officials, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, were aware of the heated exchange between the two players during the final session of yesterday's play at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

''The umpires did not hear anything, they did not know anything about it,'' he told Channel Nine.

Earlier today, the off-spinner's disciplinary hearing was put back by a day to give Indian team management more time to prepare for his defence.

Harbhajan's hearing for a breach of the International Cricket Council's code of conduct, in which he faces a ban of up to four Tests, has been postponed until the end of play tomorrow following a request from Indian team management.

ICC match referee Mike Procter, said, ''At the request of the India team manager and under the circumstances I have exercised my discretionary powers to postpone the code of conduct hearing until the conclusion of this test match,'' Proctor said.

''I am satisfied that with a further 24 hours India will have time to sufficiently prepare for this hearing.'' The charge was laid by match umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor after the close of play on day three of the match following a complaint they received from the 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 comment directed at an Australia player.

Harbhajan and Symonds exchanged words shortly after the Indian had reached his half century. Play was delayed for several minutes while the umpires spoke to Harbhajan on the pitch.

The alleged offence falls under 3.3 of the ICC Code of Conduct which refers to players or team officials ''using language or gestures that offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies another person on the basis of that person's race, religion, gender, colour, descent, or national or ethic origin''.

If found guilty, Harbhajan could face a ban of between two and four Test matches or between four and eight One-Day Internationals.

The 'Turbanator' has denied making any racist comments on Symonds and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has reportedly called on its lawyers to defend him.

''I did not say anything racist. I do not know what is going on,'' Harbhajan said.

''I haven't done anything, we were just talking. It wasn't even sledging, it was just normal talk out on the cricket field. I was concentrating on my batting.'' Symonds was subjected to racial abuse, during his Australia's tour of India in October, when spectators began taunting him with monkey chants.

The latest developments in Harbhajan's case came after Indian great Sunil Gavaskar, speaking to an Australian channel, accused the Australian side of double standards following captain Ricky Ponting's complaint that led to the offspinner's citing.

Gavaskar has been a fierce critic of the behaviour of Ponting's men in the past and felt the Australians could dish it out but not take it in return.

''If the umpires have not heard it, then what has happened to the famous Australian saying of what happens on the field stays on the field','' Gavaskar said.

'' ... in this instance if the umpires have not heard anything why is this line not being used for this particular incident.

''Is it only when the Australians give it to somebody (that) what happens on the field stays on the field but when they get it. Has it got to be reported? Doesn't it stay on the field.'' Former Aussie skipper Mark Taylor feared Ponting had opened up a can of worms and potential tit for tat citings by rival captains over on-field behaviour.

''I think Ricky has opened up Pandora's Box in terms of this,'' Taylor said.

''The Australians play tough cricket and make the odd chirp, if this goes any further I am sure there will be other times when Ricky Ponting will be on the other side of the ledger when the Australian team make the chirp.'' Former England captain Tony Greig, felt the normally dominant Australians maintain double standards when it becomes a bit tough.

''No one can tell me that there is not a bit of verbal going in the direction of the Indians from the Australians and every now and then in the heat of the moment something comes back the other way,'' he said.

''It seems to me, I don't want to be too nasty about it but the Australians find it a bit difficult to deal with some of these issues when the going is a bit tough.

''I think yesterday was a little bit of an example ... it seems that Harbhajan just lost his temper for a while, he also looked very apologetic to me.'' Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist accused Pakistan counterpart Rashid Latif of racial abuse during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, but Latif was cleared because of a lack of evidence.

Aussie batsman Darren Lehmann was the first player to be banned for racial abuse when he was banned for five one-dayers over a racial remark in earshot of the Sri Lankan dressing room during the 2002/03 season.

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