The Sydney saga 2008

'Collusion in 2008 Sydney Test racism case'

Daniel Brettig

April 7, 2011

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Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds had a quieter day after their third-day confrontation, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day, January 5, 2008
Sydney 2008: When cricket teetered on a cliff © Getty Images
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Australia and India were culpable in collusion "contrary to the spirit of cricket" in the 2008 Sydney Test "racism" incident, according to ICC appeals commissioner and New Zealand justice John Hansen, who heard the case at Adelaide's Federal Court building in January 2008. Hansen has been quoted by former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed in his memoirs describing what he called "behind the scenes" discussions by the two boards in the incident that involved Australian allrounder Andrew Symonds and Indian offspinner Harbhajan Singh.

Speed gives the affair his own legal-minded reading in Sticky Wicket, released in Australia this week, including private correspondence sent to him by Hansen in the aftermath.

Hansen went as far as to say that both boards contravened the spirit of the game, in eerie echo of Indian captain Anil Kumble's comments after the final day of the Sydney Test that started it all.

"Although both boards would deny it, BCCI and CA were having discussions behind the scenes to resolve matters," Hansen wrote. "Indeed, they presented me with an agreed statement of facts and a consent order that they expected me to rubber-stamp. In my view the consequences of such a course of action would have been disastrous for cricket.

"In any event, their actions undermined the independence of the Code of Conduct Commissioner, were unbecoming, and in my view, contrary to the spirit of cricket ... Given [that] the procedure arises from a voluntary code with input and agreement of all member associations, I consider the behaviour was improper ... having agreed to it, they ought to have confidence in it and respect it."

When contacted, a CA official said: "We are not about to trawl over old ground or make any further comment on the matter other than to say that CA did not at any stage agree to any lesser charge and, on the contrary, ensured that the agreed set of facts was noted in order to ensure the judge could independently assess that matter in accordance with appropriate judicial procedures."

The BCCI said that the contents of Speed's books had no bearing on the board. "In any case he has been a critic of the Indian board in the past, too," an official said.

Harbhajan was found guilty of racist abuse of Symonds - now his Mumbai Indians team-mate in the IPL - during the Sydney Test and handed a three-Test ban by match referee Mike Procter. The charge was leveled by the on-field umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, on a complaint from Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain that Harbhajan had called Symonds a monkey. Harbhajan's appeal was heard three weeks later by Hansen, who found the racism charge to be not proven. Harbhajan was instead charged with a Level 2.8 offence - abuse and insult not amounting to racism - to which he pleaded guilty and was fined 50 per cent of his match fees.

Reiterating his mortification that Harbhajan escaped a ban due to a colossal bungle by ICC legal counsel, who failed to lodge all the Indian spinner's past offences with Hansen, Speed nonetheless cites the meddling of CA and the BCCI as a highly unsavoury element of the saga.

"The process had been put in place precisely to manage the conduct of players and officials but the Australia and India Boards seemed happy enough to try to ignore it when it suited their ends," Speed wrote.

 
 
"Cricket Australia had faced a difficult decision. A major plank of their business was at risk. India exerted enormous pressure. CA sought a solution that would preserve their relationship with India and ultimately achieved it, protecting the ongoing tour as well."
 

"Cricket Australia had faced a difficult decision. A major plank of their business was at risk. India exerted enormous pressure. CA sought a solution that would preserve their relationship with India and ultimately achieved it, protecting the ongoing tour as well.

"Hansen's rebuke also hits hard at the BCCI. It was a graphic example of the power of India over the modern game and the willingness of its administrators to use their financial muscle when national pride is at stake."

Speed also insists that the decision to remove Bucknor from umpiring duties for the remainder of the series, following his poor match in Sydney, had been made independently of any Indian pressure.

"Much has since been written about this decision, and the general consensus is that I reacted to pressure from India to remove Bucknor. To that I can say one word: No," he wrote.

"My rationale was simple pragmatism. In the days after the Test, I received one call from India, from former BCCI president Inderjit Singh Bindra, who asked me to stand down Bucknor in the interests of the game and relations between the two countries and the ICC.

"It was quite a short discussion and a very well-reasoned argument. There were no threats, no histrionics, no drama and no pressure. I assured Bindra that I would think about it. I then spoke to James Sutherland and asked for CA's view. He advised that CA did not have a view either way: if I thought it was necessary to stand him down, they could live with that. Conversely, if he umpired in Perth, they would raise no objection.

"If Benson had been scheduled to umpire in Perth, he would have been stood down too."

In Speed's eyes, the whole episode might have played out differently had Procter, the match referee, pursued a harder line when he had the chance during the first Test of the series in Melbourne, when Yuvraj Singh was charged with dissent after lingering at the crease.

"I was at that match and was shocked by Procter's finding," Speed wrote. "I met him in Melbourne and pointed out the provisions of the Code, specifically drafted by (ICC general manager Dave) Richardson to aid referees that stated it was an offence to hang around after being dismissed, whether as a show of dissent or disappointment. Procter had forgotten about this part of the Code.

"This incident had been a chance to draw a line in the sand in the first match of what was almost certain to be a tense series, and to show the players of both sides that dissent would not be tolerated.

"The chance had been missed, the line of what was acceptable and what was not had been blurred, and with high stakes on offer, as is inevitable in a series between two leading and well-matched sides, it was hardly what was needed at that point in time."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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