Indian team rebuts Oz players' racism row escape charge

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Sydney, Jan.30 : The Indian cricket team today denied reports that they had chartered a plane to fly its players home on Thursday if bowler Harbhajan Singh was not cleared of racially taunting Australian player Andrew Symonds.

Arriving at Melbourne Airport this afternoon with the team in preparation for Friday's Twenty20 match with Australia at the MCG, the team's media spokesman Dr M.V. Sridhar said the team had not made any such plans.

''I don't know where that came from.There was no thinking like that at all. After what happened yesterday, we're going forward so that the game goes on,'' the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Sridhar, as saying.

He also confirmed that the team will have a 6 p.m. training session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground today.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that Cricket Australia, facing the prospect of a ruined one-day series and the loss of millions in television rights, sponsorship and gate-takings, had caved in to the demands of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which is seen as cricket's financial superpower.

The paper reported that Australia's cricketers were furious that off-spinner Harbhajan Singh had escaped a three-Test match ban, and had only been asked to forfeit 50 percent of match fee for using obscene language against Symonds in the controversy-ridden second Test at Sydney. layers and the media were reportedly of the view that Cricket Australia had succumbed to pressure from India to drop a charge of racism against Harbhajan.

At a meeting on Tuesday morning, the Australian players were reportedly convinced by representatives of Cricket Australia that the best way of getting a charge against Harbhajan to stick was to downgrade it from racism to abusive language.

This was initially met with fierce resistance by the five players involved in the hearing, who insisted that Harbhajan called Symonds a ''monkey'' during the Sydney Test and were determined he be punished.

They still expected that a one-match ban would be imposed, and were dismayed when the controversial spinner's three-Test suspension from Sydney was replaced by a fine.

''The thing that pisses us off is that it shows how much power India has,'' said a contracted Australian player, who refused to be named.

''The Aussie guys aren't going to make it (the accusation) up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks,'' the unnamed player was quoted, as saying

The Australian Cricketers' Association, however, is happy with the handling of the Harbhajan race row, association president Darren Lehmann said.

''We are happy with the way it has been treated and handled. That is done and dusted, so let's move on and play some cricket. It has all been done in the right channels,'' Lehmann said today.

Earlier, Australia's Governor-General, Sir Michael Jeffrey, lamenting the loss of grace and courtesy from the game of cricket, said players representing their country at the international level needed to improve their manners and behavior, as they were seen as sporting icons by the younger generation.

''While we should be playing the game tough and hard and all of that sort of thing, I think there's also a need to really take care of the fundamental courtesies and good manners. Good manners on the ground and off the ground has such a good impact on our other cricketing friends around the world. I think we've got to have a little bit of a look at this,'' Governor General Jeffrey said ahead of a game between the Prime Minister's XI game against Sri Lanka in Canberra today.

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