The battle between Andrew Symonds (l) and 
Harbhajan Singh could continue with the Indian spinner
set to  appeal [GALLO/GETTY]
 

India spinner Harbhajan Singh has been banned for three test matches for racially abusing Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds during the second test in Sydney.

The charge was laid by match umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor following a complaint by Australia captain Ricky Ponting on Friday, prior to which Harbhajan was alleged to have made a "monkey" comment directed at Symonds.

"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Harbhajan Singh directed that word (monkey) at Andrew Symonds and also that he meant it to offend on the basis of Symonds's race or ethnic origin," match referee Mike Procter said in a statement released by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The hearing took place after the test ended on Sunday in which the hosts fought back to win by 122 runs and take a 2-0 lead in the four-match series.

Harbhajan and Symonds, the only black player in the Australian team, had exchanged words shortly after the Indian reached his half century on Friday.

Play had been delayed for several minutes while the umpires spoke to Harbhajan on the pitch, although Procter had said the umpires were not close enough to hear the exchange.

The ban starts with immediate effect but Harbhajan, who denies he racially abused Symonds, could be available for the third test in Perth from January 16 as the Indians plan to lodge an appeal.

"We'll appeal against the match referee's decision once we receive a communication from the ICC," the Indian board's vice-president Rajiv Shukla said.

"Till the decision of the appeals commissioner is known, the ban on Harbhajan will obviously be stayed."

Shukla also dismissed talk that the team was considering pulling out of the rest of the tour.

Strained relations

The incident has further fractured the relationship between the two teams which had soured during an acrimonious one-day series in India in October when players from both teams were involved in heated exchanges and Symonds was racially abused by the spectators.

Australia's feat in equalling their own record of 16 consecutive test wins was overshadowed by a bitter outburst from the Indians who accused the hosts of unsportsmanlike behaviour and called on the ICC to sack the two on-field umpires.

Harbhajan is the first Indian cricketer to be banned for racism after the ICC vowed to take a tough stand following several incidents in a number of countries, including Australia.

South African and England players have complained about being abused by spectators while playing in Australia while former test batsman Darren Lehmann was suspended in 2005 for racist comments during a match against Sri Lanka.

Source: Agencies