Scant support for under-fire Ponting
Sydney (PTI): Some of Australia's greatest sportsmen on Wednesday came out against the "win at all costs" attitude of cricket captain Ricky Ponting and his team which was damaging the country's reputation.
Batting legend Neil Harvey and fast bowling great Jeff Thomson were joined by the members of the elite "Sports Australia Hall of Fame", which includes Australia's sporting icons, in attacking the cricket team for their conduct during the second Test against India at Sydney.
Harvey, a 1948 Invincible team member, blamed the Australian captain for the fiasco and said, "Ponting should have kept his mouth shut and nothing would have happened."
"It is quite unheard of for a captain to dob on someone like this and it is quite an unsportsmanlike act. I think Ponting should be chastised by Australian cricket officials for his actions," he said.
"I hope Harbhajan gets off on appeal and let's get the game back to normal. That would be the most simple and best way out," Harvey said.
He said to him 'monkey' was not a racially offensive term and "It's a bit rich for the Australians to get on their high horse considering how they act."
Ponting, however, found support from Glenn McGrath, who himself had earned a reputation for sledging during his distinguished career and gentleman cricketer Richie Benaud who counter-attacked the likes of Peter Roebuck who had demanded the sacking of "arrogant" Ponting.
Benaud described Ponting as an "outstanding" leader and said, "The thought of Ponting being sacked, I think that's absolute nonsense."
Former pace great Jeff Thomson, however, was harsh in his criticism of the team and said Ponting had no business reporting Harbhajan Singh.
"The Aussies act like morons and bullies and they can't cop criticism from someone like myself. I think it was appalling that none of the Australians went over and shook Anil Kumble's hand at the end of the SCG Test. They just played up and carried on like idiots like they normally do."
Equally miffed were the Hall of Famers, who believe Ponting and his teammates were doing enough damage to the country's reputation.
John Bertrand, who led an Australian yatch team to America Cup win 25 years ago, said, "It's not war. Their desire to win at all costs is beginning to blur their moral compass.
"We will be seeking a meeting with Cricket Australia to seek to get the Australian team to readjust their behaviour so that they do show respect for their opponents," he said.
World champion marathon runner Rob de Castella and Olympic gold medallist Herb Elliott, echoed the same view.
"We don't like what we are seeing and hearing at the moment," Elliot said.
Australian Football League hero Ron Barassi said, "It concerns me that the Australians are regularly being referred to as being arrogant and because it is mentioned so often, you begin to wonder."
Former Australia pacer and Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson too felt the team did not play the Sydney Test in true spirit of the game and suggested a counselling for the men in baggy green.
"There's certainly been a lot of feeling from ex-players who think the baggy green has been disrespected...I just think a bit of counselling needs to be done with how these players perceive themselves."
Predictably, former Australia coach John Buchanan sided with Ponting and said, "Ricky was between a rock and a hard place. The captains are the ones driving the ship. He reacted by the book, so it's hard to criticise him."
Ex-Australia captain Steve Waugh trod a middle path and said both the sides should have discussed the issue and buried the hatchet.
"Perhaps a better approach might have been for both captains, coaches and the named players to get together at the end of a day's play and work out a solution before they went past the point of no return," he said.
South African great Barry Richards saw something good out of the entire episode and said, "It is probably good that it was brought out into the open. Had they settled it off the field, all it would have done was driven it underground for a little while."
Australian media, meanwhile, looked more pre-occupied with umpire Steve Bucknor's removal from the Perth Test, a move that was perceived as ICC's capitulation before BCCI's financial might.
"A major concern for cricket's leaders is that the decision to oust Bucknor lets a genie out of the bottle. Which country will follow next with a refusal to play under a particular umpire?" asked 'Sydney Morning Herald'.
"Yesterday's action is both a buckling to power and a pragmatic decision to try to allow the tour to proceed," their columnist Tony Stephens wrote.
'The Daily Telegraph', however, felt otherwise.
"The International Cricket Council, so often criticised for its handling of major crises, did well to draw a deep breath and make a tough call," wrote Robert Craddock in the daily.
"Making the call to drop Bucknor in the middle of a series may seem cringingly bad timing but sometimes desperate situations call for unconventional methods," he added.
'The Australian', however, continued to spit venom over India's "pressure tactics" in getting Bucknor removed for the Test series.
The paper also incorporated a video section to show that "the Indian Test side in general are not saints on the field when it comes to controversial decisions".