Author : Alagappan V
Australian players, along with Harbhajan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar during the hearing of charges of racial abuse against the Indian off-spinner in 2008
Ricky Ponting, in his autobiography, At The Close Of Play, has questioned Sachin Tendulkar‘s role in the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ scandal which broke out during the 2nd Test in Sydney during India’s tour to Australia in 2007-08.
Harbhajan Singh was accused of racially abusing Andrew Symonds, allegedly calling him a ‘monkey’, widely considered an offensive racial term.
All hell broke lose following this incident. Harbhajan was initially handed a 3-match ban by match referee Mike Proctor.
After the Indian players threatened to boycott the tour and mass criticism of Australia’s ‘hypocritical’ behaviour brewed in the sub-continent, ICC mediated and appointed Justice John Hansen from New Zealand to hear the appeal against the ban.
Hansen, after hearing from Tendulkar and Harbhajan, along with Australian players, cleared the off-spinner of any racial abuse and instead charged him 50% of match-fee for using abusive language, also cancelling his 3-match ban.
In his decision, Mr. Hansen stated:
Contrary to reports Tendulkar heard nothing, he told me he heard a heated exchange and wished to calm Mr Singh down. His evidence was that there was swearing between the two.
It was initiated by Mr Symonds. That he did not hear the word ‘monkey’ or ‘big monkey’, but he did say he heard Mr Singh use a term in his native tongue ‘teri maki’ which appears to be pronounced with an ‘n’. He said this is a term that sounds like ‘monkey’ and could be misinterpreted for it.
Tendulkar was batting with Harbhajan and was at the other end of the crease when the incident happened.
According to Hansen’s report,
A viewing of the video shows that people were moving around but certainly Mr Tendulkar appears to have been closest to Mr Singh in the course of the heated exchange we are concerned with.
Ponting now reveals in his book that he was disappointed by the change in decision and wondered why Tendulkar, who hadn’t said anything about the Hindi abuse in front of Proctor earlier, suddenly came up with this new evidence.
“I couldn’t understand why Sachin didn’t tell this to (match referee) Mike Procter in the first place,” Ponting wrote in his book.
“Owing to an administrative error, the judge was never told about any of Harbhajan’s past offences, which meant the penalty was way less than what it should have been.
“As I pondered this result over the weeks and months that followed, I started to think that I needed to be more savvy about the off-field politics.
“Maybe the Indian cricket juggernaut of the 21st century is too influential to shake. But then I thought about the way a number of people in the game had questioned our motives; how they thought we were just seeking an advantage rather than acting on principle.
“It was much more serious than that. When Darren Lehmann was suspended for a racist comment in the lead-up to the 2003 World Cup, we were criticised as a group for not seeing the seriousness in what Boof had done.
“Five years later, the roles were reversed. I felt that there was a lot of hypocrisy about the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal.”
“Mike Procter heard all the evidence and found Harbhajan guilty. The next day, the Indians responded by threatening to go home.”
Ponting mentions that it was Indian players’ outburst and threats of cancelling the tour which diverted the attention back to the Australians and cast them as the offender instead of the victim.
“Because (captain Anil) Kumble’s uncontested line about ‘Australia playing outside the spirit of the game’ received so much attention, quickly the belief spread that it was us, not Procter’s judgement, that provoked the trouble.”
Ponting is not the first Australian player to criticise Tendulkar in this regard.
Adam Gilchrist, in his book “True Colours: My Life” a few years ago, said he didn’t believe in the Tendulkar’s version of events.
“Tendulkar, who’d said at the first hearing that he hadn’t been able to hear what Harbhajan had said – and he was a fair way away, up the other end, so I’m certain he was telling the truth – now supported Harbhajan’s version that he hadn’t called Symo a ‘monkey’, but instead a Hindi term of abuse that might sound like ‘monkey’ to Australian ears.
“The Indians got him off the hook when they, of all people, should have been treating the matter of racial vilification with the utmost seriousness,” Gilchrist had written.