India in Australia 2007-08 January 25, 2008

Procter took Australians' word in Harbhajan hearing

Cricinfo staff

Back at the centre of the storm: Mike Procter © Getty Images

Mike Procter, the match referee who found Harbhajan Singh guilty of calling Andrew Symonds a "monkey" during the Sydney Test, relied on the evidence of three Australian players in reaching his decision, it has been revealed. Harbhajan was banned for three Tests for that offence but the sentence was suspended following an appeal, by the Indian team, which will be heard next week.

In a leaked copy of his report on the hearing, Procter says: "I have heard evidence from Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden that he did say these words. Harbhajan Singh denies saying these words. Both umpires did not hear nor did Ricky Ponting or Sachin Tendulkar. I am satisfied and sure beyond reasonable doubt that Harbhajan Singh did say these words.

"I am satisfied that the words were said and that the complaint to the umpires, which forms this charge, would not have been put forward falsely, I dismiss any suggestion of motive or malice."

Procter's decision came late into the night of January 6, after Australia won a Test match that was mired in controversy and ended amid inflamed passions among players and public. The race issue apart, there were several contentious umpiring decisions, largely going against India, and visible tensions between the teams. The verdict itself created almost as much controversy as the incident; it was welcomed and criticised along national lines, the neutrals preferring to wait and see how Procter reached his decision, and these revelations are likely to stir up emotions again..

Among those present at the hearing was Sachin Tendulkar, the other Indian batsman at the crease, but Procter indicates he would not have been within earshot of the incident. "It was submitted to me by Chetan Chauhan [the Indian team manager] that there was doubt because the umpires and other players did not hear the words but, in my judgment, they would not have been in a position to hear them," Procter says. "I note that Sachin Tendulkar only became involved when he realised that something was happening and was gestured over. He tried to calm things down because something had happened that he did not hear."

The second issue he had to consider; Procter said, was whether Harbhajan used the words with the intention of insulting or offending him. "I am sure beyond reasonable doubt that the use of the word "monkey" or "big monkey" was said to insult or offend Andrew Symonds on the basis of his race, colour or ethnic origin."

While asserting that whatever may have been said between them prior to the exchange in question was irrelevant, Procter acknowledges there was a "history" between the two dating back to the one-day international in Mumbai late last year.

"It is not relevant to my findings here to decide what happened in Mumbai. Nevertheless there was trouble in Mumbai when members of the crowd were arrested for using the word "monkey" and gesturing towards Andrew Symonds. This caused both Indian and Australian boards to issue a joint-statement. To this extent Mumbai is relevant to this hearing."

The spat between Harbhajan and Symonds took place on the third day of the second Test in Sydney, when India were batting. Symonds later revealed he approached Harbhajan after the Indian offspinner had tapped Brett Lee on the back with his bat.

"I was standing nearby and when I saw what happened, I thought, 'Hold on, that's not on'," Symonds told the Herald Sun: "I'm a firm believer in sticking up for your team-mate so I stepped in and had a bit of a crack at Harbhajan, telling him exactly what I thought of his antics. He then had a shot back, which brings us to the situation we're facing."

Tendulkar and the umpires - Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor - intervened to defuse the situation, Benson covering his mouth while talking to Harbhajan to avoid lip-reading television viewers. The umpires reported Harbhajan to Procter after receiving a complaint from Australia's captain Ricky Ponting, who was abiding by the ICC directives concerning racism.

Following India's appeal the ICC appointed New Zealand judge John Hansen to chair the hearing, which is slated to be held on January 29 and 30 in Adelaide.