Cricket: Bowden to rescue in highly-charged Australia-India series

New Zealander Billy Bowden has been called in to umpire the fraught third cricket test between Australia and India as the International Cricket Council (ICC) tries to end the row between the two teams.

West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor was yesterday dropped from the third test, and Bowden was named to stand in his place.

This follows widespread criticism of Bucknor's performance in the second test in Sydney.

"Steve accepts that his presence was a problem and in the best interests of the game he accepted the decision," said ICC president Malcolm Speed.

Bowden, who was last night in New Plymouth to officiate at a provincial match, has become one of the game's leading umpires after being known in his early days more for his colourful antics than his calls.

He will walk into an explosive situation when the third test begins next Wednesday in Perth.

The ICC appears to have gone out of its way to satisfy Indian concerns - it has also allowed Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh to resume playing until his appeal against a three-match ban is heard.

On Monday, India suspended the tour after ICC match referee Mike Proctor suspended Harbhajan for three matches for racially abusing Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds during the ill-tempered second test.

Harbhajan denies the charge, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India lodged an appeal on his behalf.

It also demanded Bucknor be sacked because of blunders the 61-year-old made during the second test.

The most significant was on the first day when Symonds was incorrectly given not out on 30 before going on to make 162 not out.

Then on the last day, India's Rahul Dravid was wrongly given out when he was trying to save the game, which India lost by 122 runs.

The ICC does not usually let member nations interfere or oppose the appointment of umpires but Speed said the changes had been made to defuse the escalating row and ensure the series proceeded.

"It is an extraordinary set of circumstances and we want to take some of the tension out of the situation," Speed said.

The ICC's chief match referee, Ranjan Madugalle, has been appointed to act as a mediator in the row between Australian captain Ricky Ponting and Indian skipper Anil Kumble.

The former Sri Lanka batsman will speak with the feuding captains during the Perth test, Speed said.

Kumble evoked memories of Bill Woodfull's comment to the touring English side during the infamous "bodyline" series in 1932-33, by saying after the second test that "only one team was playing within the spirit of the game".

Ponting defended the behaviour of his teammates, saying they played the game hard but fair, but said he would be happy to meet Kumble to try to resolve their differences.

- Reuters

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