India and Australia match across various format have always left with some exhilarating moments. Moments that have been edged in our memory for the lifetime. One particular incident which stands out in this historic rivalry is the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ Sydney test match of 2008.
Following the end of the 2nd test match, which had already witnessed more than it’s share of controversies, Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was suspended for 3 test matches for his on-field spat with Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds. The whole controversy had revolved around the story, that Harbhajan had abused Andrew Symonds in hindi, which vaguely sounded to Andrew Symonds as being called ‘monkey’.
Sachin Tendulkar, who was around the verbal back and forth between Harbhajan and Symonds at that time, was heavily involved in the ICC-conducted investigations too, which were held after the match.
In-game Umpire Mike Procter opens up about the Monkeygate controversy
Mike Procter, who was the match-referee of that particular Sydney test match, recently opened up about the incident in his autobiography ‘Caught In the Middle’. According to Procter, the whole controversy could have been controlled and killed-off earlier, if Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar would have chosen to speak up.
The chapter containing the details of that incident is aptly called ‘Monkeygate and the mess that followed’. Speaking about Sachin Tendulkar’s role in the whole scheme of things, Procter said,
“It was very disappointing. If he (Sachin) had said that upfront (Harbhajan never said the word ‘monkey’), it would have been a whole different version. If Sachin had said that he had heard this, it was to be one person’s word against the other. It was going to create doubt, and so he (Harbhajan) would not be (held) guilty on racism charges.”
Mike Procter further writes in his book,
“The words ‘monkey’ and ‘ma ki’, heard 22 yards away, must sound very similar, and that entire episode could have been a high-profile case of lost in translation. But Tendulkar never came forward with that version to us in the initial hearing, which left me with very little choice.”
During the court hearing after the match, Harbhajan Singh had indicated that it was his imperfect English which could have caused the confusion. The explanation by the spinner left Procter perplexed, as he further adds,
“Harbhajan speaks English as good as I do. So he (Queen’s Counsel Nigel Peters, the ICC-appointed legal help at the hearing) said that they can have an interpreter, but he refused. Harbhajan didn’t offer anything… it was surprising that he did not argue.”
Procter believes that in that situation and the conditions created by the Indian management he was left with no other choice by to suspend the off-spinner. In particular, it was the baseless argument by Indian manager at that time Chetan Chauhan that made him take the decision to suspend. Elaborating on the issue, Procter writes,
“He (manager Chetan Chauhan) informed Ponting that the racism charge was completely made up, because as Indians, it was just not possible for them to be racist… To throw out Australia’s charge on the assumptive grounds that it was impossible for Indians to be racist would have made a mockery of the entire hearing.”
The book further reveals details about the pressures the Australian players were under from their board. Procter writes,
“The whole ‘Monkeygate’ scandal started to make sense to me in the months and years that followed, as I learnt that Cricket Australia had leant heavily on the players to take the racism allegation away, and instead make it a matter of abuse. The looming threat of India pulling out of the tour would have major repercussions for Cricket Australia, and a potential lawsuit from the big broadcasters.”
“That, to me, was incredible. How a national board could try to convince senior players to downgrade an allegation as serious as racial abuse, in order to maintain ties with another board was mind-boggling, but it was the first time I realised just how much of a stronghold India had on the game.”