: Australian skipper Ricky Ponting is all set to kick up a fresh storm with claims that a senior member of the Indian cricket team asked him to drop the charges of racial abuse against Harbhajan Singh during the bitter Sydney Test row earlier this year.
"On the night after we made our on-field report about Harbhajan, I had a phone conversation with a senior member of the Indian touring party, who asked me straight to drop the complaint," Ponting reveals in his just-released book 'Captain's Diary 2008', extracts of which came out in 'The Australian' today.
Harbhajan was accused of racially abusing Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds by calling him a 'monkey' during the infamous Sydney Test, a charge that was downgraded after the Indian off-spinner claimed that he had used a Hindi abuse that sounded similar to 'monkey'.
Ponting, without revealing the name of the player who called him, goes on to say that the senior Indian cricketer tried convincing him about the futility of pursuing the long legal battle that would come with pressing such a serious charge.
"Why do we need to keep it quiet?" I asked. "His reply had nothing to do with Harbhajan's guilt or innocence; this fellow was more concerned with how events were going to transpire and tried to convince me it might not be worth the stress of going ahead with what might well be a prolonged legal process."
Ponting alleges that once he ignored the call, he witnessed heightened activity in the Indian camp to get the charges downgraded. The Indians had threatened to pull out of the acrimonious tour at one stage.
"I was determined to see that justice would be done, but I knew from the moment I put my mobile back in my pocket that the investigation might not be as straightforward as the authorities hearing the evidence, making the right decision and then we all move on," he said.
"It would not look good for Indian cricket for one of their senior players to be convicted of racial abuse, and from the time their officials realised we were not going to give ground which was probably the moment this brief conversation ended they set out to make sure that did not happen," he added.
Ponting rued that the ugly episode ended up taking the sheen off the Australian team's record-equalling 16th straight Test win.
"One of the great frustrations of this affair was that the quality of our victory in this Sydney Test, and the excitement it generated, was largely lost in the anger that engulfed cricket in the days immediately after the game.
"That it extended our winning streak in Test cricket to 16 games; that the victory came after a roller-coaster five days, in which we'd shared and suffered so many emotions, on and off the field; that during that final day we'd anguished over when to declare, not wanting to be too reckless or too cautious, thought we were going to win, resigned ourselves to a draw, then come from nowhere to get up on the line all these things added to our exhilaration.
Ponting once again disputed the then Indian skipper Anil Kumble's post-match remarks that only the visiting side played the game in the right spirit.
"Around half an hour after the final wicket fell, after I left the room under the Bradman Stand in which the post-match media conference was held, Anil Kumble slid into the hot seat and as I learned later quickly he made the accusations that would generate headlines over the next couple of days.
"I think only one team was playing within the spirit of the game," he began. "We like to play hard on the field and we expect that from Australia as well. I have played my cricket very sincerely and very honestly, and that's the approach my team takes on the field. I expect that from the Australians as well," he said.
"From what I understand, his comments were met with rousing cheers by the Indian press corps. No one, Indian or Australian, challenged his view. They had their story," he added.