Controversy January 5, 2008

Ponting and the case against Harbhajan

The Symonds affair and the charge of racial abuse laid against Harbhajan Singh by Ricky Ponting could change the way in which international cricket is monitored and regulated

The Symonds affair and the charge of racial abuse laid against Harbhajan Singh by Ricky Ponting could change the way in which international cricket is monitored and regulated. I say ‘could’ because the affair could also pan out straightforwardly with punishment for Harbhajan and no general consequences for the game.

If there is any corroborative evidence (besides the testimony of Symonds, Matthew Hayden and Ponting) that Harbhajan used racist taunts when he responded to Symonds’ comments by confronting him on the field, Harbhajan should not only be banned for the period laid down by the ICC’s rules, the BCCI should put the spinner on notice: it should warn Harbhajan that any subsequent offence will result in his banishment from international cricket. The board equivocated in the matter of racist abuse from spectators in Vadodara and Mumbai; it mustn’t make that mistake again. Mike Proctor hasn’t revealed the specific comment(s) for which Harbhajan is charged, but the rumour in Australian newspapers is that Harbhjan called Symonds a monkey. Chetan Chauhan, the Indian team manager, has been reported saying that Harbhajan denies having said this; he is also reported as saying in the same breath that ‘monkey’ in Indian usage isn’t a derogatory word. If the report is accurate, this is exactly the kind of shiftiness that the touring team’s management should avoid. If Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey he should go down; preferably forever.

Newspaper reports seem to suggest that the umpires didn’t hear the exchange that gave rise to the charge. Channel 9 has reviewed its audio tapes and found no record of the offensive comments either. They do, however, have recordings of the subsequent chat which involved Hayden, Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan. So it is possible that these tapes have Harbhajan referring to his comments, perhaps even apologizing for them. In the pictures that I saw while watching the telecast, I saw Harbhajan making what seemed to be conciliatory hand gestures. If he was apologizing and his apology contains the offending word and if that word is ‘monkey’ or something similarly racist, that should be evidence enough.

The other possibility is that in the course of the hearing, Tendulkar, who was batting with Harbhajan at the time and who seemed to have heard part of the exchange, isn’t able to whole-heartedly exonerate Harbhajan. It’s unlikely that he’d explicitly ‘shop’ a team-mate but Tendulkar’s an honourable man and if he heard Harbhajan flinging racist abuse about, he might be reluctant to perjure himself. This is an unlikely outcome: in his public statements about the spat, Tendulkar has said that he heard nothing objectionable said, but it’s just possible that in the grave context of a quasi-judicial hearing, his account of the incident might subtly change in ways unfavourable to Harbhajan.

However, if neither tape nor Tendulkar backs up the Australian charge, then international cricket’s in trouble. Hayden has been quoted as saying that the Australian’s have a very strong case. If the case is based on the kind of connections that are being reported in Australian press, the evidence is underwhelming. The Sun-Herald has reported that the Australian case will be based on the argument that Harbhajan is a ‘repeat offender’. The Australians will, apparently, allege that Harbhajan used the monkey taunt against Symonds in the seventh ODI in Mumbai in October. Michael Slater, who commented on that match, has backed up that claim. The trouble with this argument is that the Australian team didn’t lodge a complaint against Harbhajan at the time and I haven’t heard or read Slater going on record about Harbhajan’s Wankhede behaviour before the current crisis.

Given that Harbhajan and the Australians had tangled in the course of the series and Harbhajan had alleged after the 2nd ODI that the Australians had abused Indian players with ‘personal and vulgar’ words, the ‘repeat offender’ argument, without other corroborative evidence, will seem like a way of settling scores, rather than punishing bigotry. Harbhajan could equally argue that Symonds’ comments were part of a pattern of offensive Australian behaviour. This is what he said after the second ODI in India:

“After the match Harbhajan was not laughing and said the Australians had shown themselves to be bad losers after their defeat to India in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 World Cup. "They clearly did not like that," Harbhajan said in the Sydney Morning Herald. "They are a very good cricket side, but that does not mean that they can do whatever they want to do. They say they play the game in the right spirit, but they don't in reality. There is nothing gentlemanly about the way they play."

After being dismissed by Michael Clarke in the 84-run loss, Harbhajan waited mid-pitch and pointed his bat. "I was responding to a lot of vulgar words that were said to me," he said. "I don't have any problem with chitchat on the field, so long as it is about the game. But when it is very personal and vulgar, that is not on. They think you cannot fight back and they do not like it when you do.”

Cricket has been down this road once before. Some years ago Rashid Latif was accused by Adam Gilchrist of calling him a ‘white c__t”. Latif denied the charge and was exonerated; it was his word against Gilchrist’s and there was no way of proving the charge. If the Harbhajan-Symonds dispute ends the same way, the consequences could be larger. If it turns out that Ponting made an accusation of racism which the Australians couldn’t back up, the accused Indians will be left with a lively sense of grievance and injury. There’ll be no shortage of people arguing that the Australians tried to opportunistically fit Harbhajan up in the middle of a closely contested Test match, or, more seriously, that Ponting recklessly used cricket’s adjudicatory process to intimidate and unsettle an opponent.

Australian cricketers famously leave on-field quarrels on the field. Ponting has chosen to take Harbhajan to ‘court’. Slater supports the decision because racism is unacceptable and he’s right. Racism is unacceptable. But if Ponting can’t come up with the evidence for a ‘conviction’, if his case is based on Symonds’ word and Harbhajan’s ‘prior form’, I can see players and officials asking for stump microphones to be left on all the time so that allegations of this sort in the future can be settled by technology. I can also see players retaining libel lawyers and disputes like this one being resolved in real law courts.

If Mike Proctor finds against Harbhajan, Indians might simmer awhile, but the Australians will have been vindicated. If he clears him, there’s a real chance that on-field chat will be systematically monitored in the future, and Ponting’s recourse to the match referee might well be remembered as the day Big Brother came to stay.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on March 5, 2008, 20:28 GMT

    Playing with Australian cricket team is like playing with a bunch of immature and naughty school kids who believe that winning is what counts, no matter how. Any cricket series played in Australian soil is always full of controversies. I hope that the recent defeat in the CB series will trigger these 30+ years old kids to re-think their approach towards the game.

  • testli5504537 on January 31, 2008, 15:07 GMT

    Wrong Khanman. It is not possible for a brown skin to be racist agains a white skin, because brown skins haven't done anything to white skins. If an African-American refers to another African-American, using the famous American N-word, nobody considers it racist, yet everybody knows that if a white uses it against an African-American, then it IS racist. Therefore, who uses the terms in question is the most important issue, because brown skins can say anything they want to, because they haven't done what the white skins have done in terms of criminal activity motivated by racism. Furthermore, put a "stump" microphone in any Indian school, and you will repeatedly hear Indian teachers berating their students for their misbehaviour by calling them "monkeys." Therefore, if Harbhajan uses the word "monkey", it is racist to accuse him of racism, because the Australians are effectively saying that Indian teachers are irrelevant and there is only one "white" standard for the use of that word.

  • testli5504537 on January 28, 2008, 22:56 GMT

    i just have one question for everyone here. how is being called "monkey" more raicist then being called "Turbanator"

  • testli5504537 on January 17, 2008, 9:12 GMT

    I think its a shame that Harbhajan abused Symonds racially...Indian cricketers are always seeking world sympathy for racialism against them..this time they over did it and got caught red handed...but as always they have Australians to be blamed for it...what a sham !

  • testli5504537 on January 11, 2008, 10:28 GMT

    going by the blog, i am a little confused infact rather very confused...a bastard is a demeaning term in the english language as much as i how does culture come into it??...calling someone a bastard is not just demeaning a demeans the entire lineage of the person in the end demeaning the entire reason of the person's being...still maybe i am not understanding something... and monkey atleast by indian cultural sense not an abuse, and how does it end up being a racial abuse is a question i have no idea about... if i want to watch a war i can switch on the news channel rather than a games it all depends on what you make your game into...a war or a match...a celebration of life or voilent end of life...

  • testli5504537 on January 10, 2008, 13:47 GMT

    I have never written on this or any other forum before in my whole life. But the Harbajhan - Symonds affair has compelled me to write in. The whole of the cricket world, media and general public seem to have missed the point.

    1. The racist comment incident.

    2. Bad Umpiring

    There are not in any way shape or form related and I find it unbelievable and depressing that they seem to be treated as such. Are the egeneral public, cricket offciials and media that stupid? Have they missed the point completely, it seems so.

    Singh has been accused of racism towards Symonds. He was found guilty. Three match ban. Ok the Indians were unhappy and appealed, as there are entitled too. Hold the appeal andf make the decsiion one way or the other case closed. Hold the appeal before the next test and get it sorted so he play/or not play.

    Steve Bucknor made some awful decisons. All umpires bad decisons. When David Sheppered gave out five english batsmen gave out off Saqlain Mushtaq no balls, was he dropped? No, this sets a precedent, a dangerous precdent. What will umpires around the world be thinking now, one make a couple of ricks and there out. There job is hard enough as it is without this in the back of their minds.

    But ok has been dropped and Harbajhan banned for his comments. What ahve they got to do with each other? Absolutely nothing! If Bucknor had had the best match of his life Harbajhan would still have been banned.

    Other arguments are that the aussies claimed catches which turned out to be grounded. Somehow this isn related to the Hardbajhan incident also, how exactly? It is ludicrous!!!

    Boycott, Roebuck and too many others to mention are coming out with statements along the line of "oh the aussies are complaining about sledging, thats a bit rich". The Aussies arent complaining about sledging, one of their players has been racially abused! Unbelievable! Its not as if Singh was just like "ooh your average isnt great mate, or your bowling rubbish". This is racist abuse!

    Ponting and the aussie team, and what seems like the sportmanship of the entire aussie nation is being called into question. For a couple of appeals for catches, which goes on in every test match and one dayer from every nation, this is silly?

    If someone could please answer me it would be very much appreciated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • testli5504537 on January 10, 2008, 8:12 GMT


    Simply ENOUGH has been written post the SCG Test regarding how the umpires cost India the match, how Aussies cheat desperately to win, how Ponting and his men lack integrity and sportsmanship and blah blah..Its about time someone came and placed the facts right..

    The Umpiring decisions - Yup! India were on the recieving end of some poor decisions most notably Symonds caugh behind not being given and Dravid being adjudjed caught behind when he clearly hadn't edged it. Well how everyone has so conveniently overseen is how Laxman survived a plumb LBW shot against Brett Lee(who himself was unlucky to be given LB when he and Symonds were batting.) And since when have Umpires not made mistakes and cause a match to be won or lost.. Why is it being made such a big issue? Why is everyone's memory so short - the 7th ODI b/w Indo-Aus in India in 2007 Murali Karthik edged to Gilchrist when India were already in the shambles, he didn't walk, the umpire didn't give him out and India went on to win. Which would have not been the result had he been given out. Ponting laughed it off at the end of the match as some of you might remember. What happned then? And how about the "famous" Indo-Aus test series of 2001. There were Indian umpires officiating who have never umpired since and some of the decisions during that series were diabolical to say the least. Just cast your mind to Harbhajan's hatrick, Gilchrist got an inside edge AND the ball pitched outside leg and he was given LBW, and Warne was given caught by the third umpire without even seeing the angles of the shot and gave him out on the basis of a replay which was hidden by the fielder who caught the ball. The Third Umpire had no idea whether Warne had taken the ball on the full and the replays were inconclusive. Not only that Aussies bore a brunt of poor decsions in the 2nd Innings at Kolkatta.including mcGraths wicket which was the last to fall. So do umpires mess up..Ya they surely do but do you cry and make a scene about it - no you don't. What you do is play well which includes batting 72 overs in a not so bad pitch(Hussey and Haydo scoring centuries against Kumble and Bhajji's "world class" spin) and not losing 6 wickets(5 dravid excluded) to part timers like Symo and Clarke.

    And coming to 'Ponting's integrity' regarding the catches. Lets go back to the India-England series when Dhoni claimed a caught behind off Pieterson when he had clearly ground the ball. Dravid and Tendulkar in the slips did go up and celebrate. Now does this mean they are cheaters??? WHY WHY was it not made an issue at that time when the catch was claimed and it has been blown out of proprtion at the SCG??? Especially when Ponting himself in the first Indian innings clarified that he had grounded a catch after he took it!! All this talk is senseless.

  • testli5504537 on January 10, 2008, 5:21 GMT

    Despite the poor umpiring in this test, have any of the Indian supporters thought for a moment that instead of blaming the umpire, that they have a look at Jaffa and Yuvraj's contributions for the Sydney test.

    If EITHER of them scored their average in Test cricket during the final innings, I have no doubt that India would have saved the Test.

    If either of these two players get a start in Perth will show what a circus Indian Cricket is in.

    Also, nice to see the ICC caving in again everytime India doesn't get their way.

    Jaffer: Series AVG: 11.50 Yuvraj: : Series AVG: 4.25

    Have a look in your own backyard before you go ruining the careers of other people!

  • testli5504537 on January 9, 2008, 19:45 GMT

    Look at the outcome. Harbhajan, Bucknor punished. Symonds also can't be a happy person. Most shameful acts were carried out by Benson,Oxenford,Proctor and the Aussie - Team & Managers. And this has been happening always. Good to see Asians awake. ICL - take notice and IPL it is disgusting. Spend money on millions of poor in the region.

  • testli5504537 on January 9, 2008, 12:09 GMT

    Ponting and Co (especially Symonds & Clarke) have taken Cricket Australia to a different path. Winning at any cost.

    The second test belongs to India. But for the umpires who played for Australia, India would have easily won the match. Nobody is thinking on the match fixing angle. The umpires have fixed the match for Australia. Yes, if such things dont go checked, people can level all charges !

    Beware and wakeup ICC. Use TECHNOLOGY. If ICC is still adamant not using technology, cricket will die.

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