Cricket: Aussies accused of losing moral compass [+video]

A trio of Australian sporting icons yesterday accused the country's cricket side of having lost their moral compass in the row over a ban on Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh for racial abuse.

As authorities moved to defuse a two-day stand-off and Indian threats to abandon their tour, Sport Australia Hall of Fame head John Bertrand said the home team had grown arrogant through success, and needed more respect for opponents.

"Sport is only sport. It's not war," Bertrand, a former champion yachtsman, told the Herald Sun newspaper.

The Australian team has been accused of unsportsmanlike, boorish behaviour in its second test victory over India, with captain Ricky Ponting accused of encouraging an overly aggressive approach on the field.

Bertrand said his concerns were echoed by Hall of Fame colleagues Herb Elliott, an Olympic gold winning middle distance runner, and marathon champion Rob de Castella, a former director of the Australian Institute of Sport.

"We believe Australia's test team moral compass needs to be retuned," said Bertrand, who skippered the yacht Australia II to America's Cup victory in 1983.

The Indian cricket board said the Australian tour would continue on condition Singh eventually be cleared of the racial abuse charge and a three-match ban issued by the International Cricket Council be dropped.

The Indian board held an emergency meeting after the ICC removed umpire Steve Bucknor for the third test in Perth and appointed a mediator between the two teams.

The row has divided sports- mad Australians, with fans split over whether the country's world champion team had abandoned sportsmanship in its ruthless pursuit of success, marked by 16 successive test victories.

"All I can say is that Ricky Ponting has got the full support of our team and probably every cricketer in Australia," test batsman Mike Hussey said, while former Australia captain Richie Benaud said Ponting had been an outstanding leader. Tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, whose aggressive approach has itself drawn criticism, said the Australians had nothing to apologise for.

The Indians finally arrived at their hotel in Canberra yesterday afternoon, two days late but keen to get on with cricket after an intense few days of discussions between the Indian and Australian boards and world cricket's governing body.

The ACT Invitational XI will host India for a three-day game starting at Canberra's Manuka Oval today.

India, who trail the four-test series against Australia 2-0, are adamant Harbhajan should be free to play in the third test in Perth. Harbhajan has been suspended for three tests for racially abusing Australia's Andrew Symonds.

He is available for Perth until an appeal is heard.

REUTERS

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