What’s the story?
Back in 2008, when the new year had just dawned upon the world, India and Australia were involved in an intense battle at Sydney. As has been the norm over the years, there has been no love lost between the sides whenever they have taken the field, but incidents in Sydney forced the cricketing world to pause and pay heed to the proceedings.
Mike Procter, the match referee during that infamous 'monkeygate' scandal, has given his version of the events and has tried to clear the ambiguity around the entire farce in his autobiography.
While Procter said that the Australians were adamant they had heard Harbhajan fire a racial slur towards Andrew Symonds, neither the on-field umpires nor the other batsman (Sachin Tendulkar) had heard any such thing.
In his book, 'Caught in the middle', the South African, who has dabbled in almost every facet of cricket, threw light on the entire scenario.
'A videotape of the incident did not have any sound and there was no one present to record the hearing. Over three hours, Procter and Nigel Peters QC, who the ICC had requested to assist in the matter, heard testimony. Ponting said his players had told him they'd heard Harbhajan call Symonds a monkey. India's manager at the time, 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". Chauhan also produced an album of photos "with princes and princesses in regal dress but with monkey heads", and said monkeys were deities that could not be insulted. Harbhajan did not testify because Chauhan said he did not speak English.'
While Procter had been "hoping there would be reasonable doubt that there had been any racial abuse involved", he concluded that Australia had several "adamant" witnesses and India offered "absolutely nothing in terms of evidence", and found Harbhajan guilty. The sanction was a three-Test ban, which was overturned on appeal, where Tendulkar revealed Harbhajan had said something unprintable about Symonds' mother in Hindi and Procter figured that the phrase "maa ki" could have been heard as "monkey". Procter writes that if Tendulkar's testimony had come at the initial hearing, his decision would have been different.'
In case you didn’t know…
The Sydney Test was not only marred by the aforementioned slur, but was the subject of a lot of umpiring mistakes, a majority of which were against the Indian team.
Sachin too wrote in his own autobiography, Playing it my way, that the Indian team were ready to forfeit the tour and come back home since they were convinced that Harbhajan had done nothing wrong.
The Indian legend had also written that they took strong exception to the statements made by Procter when he said, "I believe one group is telling the truth."
Digging up this old story after a gap of 10 years could well open a can of worms if the Indian players decide to hit back with their own set of arguments.
However, the fact remains that, owing to his verdict, Procter tarnished his reputation with the BCCI as he was not appointed the match referee when the IPL was played in South Africa in 2009.
If there was not enough proof, there was no reason to slap the ban on Harbhajan and in many ways the response of the Indian team back in the day, although a bit of a kneejerk, made a lot of sense.
Having said this, it is good on Procter to come out and speak about the issue as the players involved in the entire episode have already moved on and have even played together in the IPL.