Offspinner's three-Test ban lifted January 29, 2008

Australia incensed by Harbhajan reprieve

Cricinfo staff

The stony faces of Australia's cricketers tell a story, as Harbhajan Singh's racism charge is dropped © Getty Images
Harbhajan Singh's exoneration for his alleged "monkey" comment towards Andrew Symonds has been hailed as a victory for justice in India, but the decision has incensed Australia's cricketers, who believe their board has caved in to overwhelming pressure from the game's financial superpower.

In a front-page article in Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald, an unnamed Australian cricketer has hit out at the decision, which was only reached after Cricket Australia persuaded their five players at the hearing to downgrade their charge against Harbhajan from racism to abusive language. Instead of being banned for three Tests as per the original verdict, he was fined 50% of his match fee.

"The thing that pisses us off is that it shows how much power India has," the anonymous contracted player told the paper. "The Aussie guys aren't going to make it [the accusation] up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks."

In what the paper described as a "brazen act of provocation", the Indian board chartered a plane to whisk their one-day squad from Melbourne - the venue for Friday's Twenty20 fixture - to Adelaide, so that they could fly home to India if the charges against Harbhajan were not dropped. The move was described by MV Sridhar, the team's assistant manager, as a "show of solidarity".

Friday's match alone - the curtain-raiser for the lucrative CB Series - is expected to attract a crowd in excess of 90,000, and Cricket Australia, fearing the loss of millions of dollars in TV rights, sponsorship and gate takings, opted not to call India's bluff. It was also believed to be under pressure from broadcasters who could have sued had the series been abandoned. The Australian reported the players had an often fiery meeting with Cricket Australia officials during the fourth Test and it was agreed the charge would be lowered if Harbhajan apologised.

An Indian pull-out would have threatened Sri Lanka's participation in the CB Series as well. Arjuna Ranatunga, the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket, and other senior board officials told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier that the board was keeping an eye on the developments in the hearing before deciding whether to commit to the tour or not.

The issue was resolved late on Tuesday night, when Cricket Australia and the BCCI issued a joint statement, saying Symonds and Harbhajan had "resolved" the issue and that both captains were also "satisfied with the outcome".

Australia's unofficial opinion, however, is less placatory. The team maintain that Harbhajan abused Symonds both in Sydney and three months earlier during an ill-tempered one-day series in India. In audio evidence supplied by Channel 9 - and played before the appeals commissioner, Justice John Hansen - Matthew Hayden is heard remonstrating with Harbhajan. "You've got a witness now, champ," says Hayden. "It's racial vilification, mate. It's a shit word and you know it."

Harbhajan can be heard protesting that Symonds started the verbals, but the actual word is inaudible on the tapes. "Ultimately, truth has prevailed," said the BCCI vice-president, Rajiv Shukla. "India has always stood against racism. Cricket is the victor in all this."

Ranatunga, a former Sri Lankan captain, called for a ban on sledging and hoped the Australians would learn their lessons from this controversy.

"Australia have had these issues with some touring sides," Ranatunga told Reuters. "History shows whenever they get it back, they struggle. Sometimes they also need to learn a lesson. I'm a great believer they should stop all shouting in the grounds."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on January 30, 2008, 11:40 GMT

    The Aussies are hypocrites, Ponting especially. You can't start a fight, and then complain when it gets nasty. Steve Waugh coined the term 'mental disintergration' and the wittering starts in the Aussie press (mainly fueled by the Aussie players) on tour even before a ball is bowled.

    In no way am I condoning racism. But if you greet a team with unbridled aggression from day one, don't be surprised if you get some back.

    Grow up Australia. If you want to be big hard men and give it out on the pitch, don't expect modern Test cricketers to wilt and die. Either except that what goes on during a game remains in the game, or shut your mouths and play like gentlemen according to the spirit of the game...something they have rarely done.

  • H on January 30, 2008, 11:40 GMT

    Yep, someone's asking what if in Lehmann's case CA had said "black c**ts" (the word he used) is not racist> The irrefutable proof my friend was that he is an Aussie. Period. We all know how well behaved they are on the field. In Bhajji's case, not one of the accusers: Symonds, Hayden, Ponting and Clarke are innocent schoolboys. That is why the accusation didn't stand in the latter case, while it did in the former.

    And if Symonds didn't want to be abused, all he had to do was remain silent (as per the agreement between him and Bhajji according to which none of them would speak to each other on the field) when there was some friendly banter going on between Harbhajan and Lee. But no, he had to nose in. And be exposed as a troublemaker rather than an innocent victim.

  • Chris on January 30, 2008, 11:33 GMT

    I can't believe some peoples reaction in defending Harbhajan, he knew exactly what the word meant to Symonds after the tour of India, doesn't matter if it would be racist or not to any other Aussie player. It is an absolute JOKE that with all of India whinging that they are allowed in what is a small suspension to get it over ruled just because of the financial importance they are to world cricket. I have lost a lot respect for ICC, Indian cricket team and finally there supports who choose to blindly support Harbhajan even though there is no doubt he is in the WRONG. They may say what about Hogg comments but in no way would Hogg have realized the offense they would take to it, where in Harbhajan case he knew EXACTLY how hurtful it would be! WHAT A JOKE!

  • Krishnan on January 30, 2008, 11:09 GMT

    The Harbhajan episode has left a sour taste in many supporters of Team India. If he has abused Symmonds by using "Maaki" he should be severely reprimanded and banned for at least 3 test matches. For us Indians this is a worst form of abuse and no respected Indian will take this lying down. Sledging in any form must be banned from the cricket fields for the sake of this great gentleman's game.I hope the BCCI will take a serious view of this and punish Harbhajan Singh by omittimg him from the one day squad. Anyway, his performance is nothing worth shouting about.

  • shuvo on January 30, 2008, 11:08 GMT

    Poor Aussies, one should feel pity at them. While in the political front they play George Bush's dog, now in cricket they are servile clowns dancing to the tunes of the BCCI. As some of them whine about the BCCI's financial clout, Gilly, hailed as the idol of fair-play in that nation of outlaws, cannot wait to join the IPL with a bunch of drooling buffoons from his team. Always standing up for his baggy green team-mates, another foppish Aussie goes 'unnamed' to the press, lest the IPL deal is cancelled. No doubt history shows us where this disreputable double-standard comes in their blood from. I guess it's the same history that explains their patented on-field ruffianism. What could be more ludicrous than to see a nation aggressively pursuing a "White Australia" policy till 1973 and still covertly doing so to raise a finger at others on racial grounds? Yet I must say that it's entertaining to see their entire nation come down to the state of cry-babies. But, HOOLIGANS DON'T CRY!

  • Peter on January 30, 2008, 11:02 GMT

    So India say jump and the cricket world is left to say how high? Why bother having an ICC - why don't we just let the BCCI run world cricket? And for all those glad that India now dominate how the game is played - not the so called Ashes alliance - ask yourself the question - do two wrongs make a right? The game should not be run or belong to any one country or governing body. We love the game for the game - not for BCCI bullying, Cricket Australia's lack of backbone (driven purely from a financial perspective) and the ICC's impotence. Sadly the series will be remembered not for Sachin and Matthew's wonderful batting, Bingers great bowling or for the great Aussie performance in Melbourne or the ground breaking win by India in Perth. Money & politics - obviously all that matters in the glorious game these days.

  • jason on January 30, 2008, 11:00 GMT

    Reading many of the Indian cricket blogs I am left with the feeling that India is facing somewhat of an identity crisis. Many of the posters refer to India emerging as a world super power, and in more ways than cricket, and see the defeat in Sydney as a personal attack on this belief that India is destine for greatness. The result in Sydney, marred by decisions that went against them, and the charge of racial vilification are separate issues to Australians, yet are viewed as inseparable by Indians. This issue is about a lot more than cricket.

  • Johjn on January 30, 2008, 10:57 GMT

    The whole issue is about sledging. When Harbhajan patted on lee's back there was no need for Symonds to say anything. It was Symonds who provoked harbhajan and if lee had said anything then it's understandable. Symonds wanted to show the aussie attitude (sledging) in the field and tried his hand on harbhajan. He got what he wanted, an unnecessary issue which distracted the whole issue of bad sportsmanship and bad umpiring in the Sydney test. It was easy for the aussies to talk about racial abuse due to the recent events which was mistaken as racial abuse in their tour to India. What everyone should understand is that did harbhajan say anything in Hindi or English to prove racial abuse. I think of late the aussies couldn't digest the fact that these days there are guys to give them a lesson about sledging. I think the aussie sledgers always been known for sledging got what they wanted and hopefully learnt a lesson.

  • Rajender on January 30, 2008, 10:57 GMT

    It is amusing to see how Australians get so riled up about the use of the term 'monkey' as being a rascist term. Clearly, despite all the advances of scientific thinking most Westerners are unable to get rid of their Judea-Christian-Islamic cultural baggage in accepting the fact that humans, apes and monkeys have a common ancestral background which is why the term 'monkey' seems so offensive to them. Most Indians, with their Hindu/Sikh/Jain backgrounds, do not have such a similar cultural baggage and, instead, actually rever monkeys. I have never heard anybody use such a 'racial' epithet of 'monkey' within India. What seems quite likely, and the testimony from the Indian team seems to bear this out, is that Bhaji used the term "Ma ki.." (which is actually, by Indian standards far more offensive... and roughly translates as mother's (the part that is left unsaid refers to the female genatilia)).

  • Sarvesh on January 30, 2008, 10:46 GMT

    The entire episode i.e. series+controversy has indeed proved that india is The Superpower in cricket. A power not only financially but on field as well.The team gave Aussies a bitter pill, on and off the field. Its high time for the aussies to sit back, cotemplate and draw a solution that focuses on good and clean cricket not just the aggression.

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