Sydney: India's cricketers have decided to adopt a hardline approach to Australian sledging for the remainder of the series.
According to sources close to the team management, the players believe the Australians are practicing double standards, and intend to make spinner Brad Hogg the first target of their zero-tolerance approach to verbal abuse.
In response to the three-match ban on off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, the Indian players have made a counter-claim against Hogg, suggesting that he called Indian captain Anil Kumble and his deputy Mahendra Dhoni bastards while they were batting.
ABUSE FOR ABUSE: India plan to make Brad Hogg the first target of their zero-tolerance approach.
The energetic spinner, who was yesterday cleared of a fracture in his non-bowling hand, remains at the centre of an increasingly bitter feud between the two countries.
Team manager Chetan Chauhan has confirmed an official complaint to the ICC on Hogg, but denied the move was retaliatory.
Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist all gave evidence against Harbhajan, saying that he called Symonds a "monkey".
The Indians argue that "monkey" is not racially insulting in their country. Hogg is understood to have said, "I'm looking forward to running through you bastards," and the Indians claim "bastard" is deeply offensive in their culture.
"This is a serious term. It has a lot of bad meanings back in India and we are very sensitive about these issues. In India, we do not have children without getting married. It is a taboo and it is not accepted in the society. A child born out of wedlock is considered to be very low and an outcast. We don't use this word at all, only when you really want to abuse somebody in a derogatory manner," claimed Chauhan.
"First Dhoni informed me and then Anil Kumble also confirmed that the word was used and it was in full hearing distance. Ricky Ponting heard that and checked Brad Hogg because he understood the meaning," Chauhan added.
Although the Indians' tour is in limbo following the BCCI's orders to remain in Sydney until the Harbhajan appeal is resolved, the Hogg case could be heard next week in Perth before the third Test, in which the 36-year-old Western Australian is no certainty to play.
Ponting preferred part-time spinners Symonds and Clarke as Australia strained to bowl India out on the fifth day at the SCG, and it is possible the selectors will call on Shaun Tait as part of a four-pronged pace attack on the quickest pitch in the country.
Ponting last night was mystified how his players could be accused of unsportsmanlike behaviour when the only incident to draw official sanction from the first two Tests involved an Indian player, not an Australian.
Defending himself and his team against claims his team had breached the spirit of the game in their ruthless pursuit of victory, Ponting said he was at a loss to understand his side's crime.
"It's disappointing, and they are entitled to their opinion, but if you look back at the game I really can't see how we have done anything wrong by the spirit of the game.
"I think the whole [Test] has been tainted a little bit by some of the events during and then after the game. Otherwise, I think this actual game and the first Test in Melbourne, apart from the one issue which everyone knows about right at the moment, was played in very very good spirits."
Ponting said it would be extreme to consider cancelling the remainder of the tour, and said he was troubled that a century of cricket between the two nations could be jeopardised by one incident.