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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bucknor sacked, Harbhajan can play in Perth Test

Melbourne(IANS) Team India heaved a sigh of relief as controversial West Indies umpire Steve Bucknor will not be officiating while Harbhajan Singh can play in the third Test against Australia in Perth starting Jan 16, the top International Cricket Council (ICC) official announced here Tuesday.

In a hurriedly convened press conference at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said that Billy Bowden of New Zealand would replace West Indies' Bucknor, an Elite Panel umpire. Pakistan's Asad Rauf will join Bowden in Perth.

Speed said that some people would be unhappy with ICC's decision at India's insistence to remove Bucknor.

"I can understand that people will take that view," he said. "It is an extraordinary set of circumstances and we want to take some of the tension out of the situation."

The move comes a day after the Indian cricket board drew the ICC's attention to the horrendous umpiring mistakes that cost India the Sydney Test Sunday.

Umpiring was one of the two issues India were unhappy with following that match, along with the three-Test suspension imposed on off-spinner Harbhajan.

The off-spinner was Sunday suspended for three Tests after he was found guilty of racially abusing Australia's Andrew Symonds in Sydney by allegedly calling him a "monkey".

India have appealed against the ban, and a fresh hearing is to be held.

But Speed could not say when that hearing would be held. He was hopeful it would occur before the next Test, starting Jan 16.

If the hearing on Harbhajan's ban was not held before the start of the third Test, the Indian off-spinner would be eligible for the match in Perth, Speed said. The ICC chief executive was hopeful India's tour would continue, but could not guarantee that.

Speed said the ICC needed to take a "pragmatic view" towards the issue, and needed to be "flexible" to resolve the crisis.

He was confident Bucknor, 61, would umpire again at Test level. Speed said match referee Ranjan Madugalle, the former Sri Lankan captain, would be appointed as a mediator between the Australian and Indian sides.

Meanwhile, a racism hearing against Australian spinner Brad Hogg will also go ahead, after the Indians alleged he called captain Anil Kumble a "bastard" in Sydney. Hogg's hearing will be held some time before the third Test by match referee Mike Procter.

Speed said Procter and an ICC-appointed code of conduct commissioner would re-hear the Harbhajan case, with the witnesses to be called again.

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