Ponting tells of request to drop Harbhajan complaint
Ricky Ponting has said he was approached by a senior member of the India touring party during the acrimonious Sydney Test and asked to drop Australia's complaint against Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan was alleged to have racially abused Andrew Symonds during the game and Ponting said that even before Harbhajan's three-Test ban was handed down it was clear the matter would not be straightforward.
Ponting's recollections are revealed in his Captain's Diary 2008, an extract of which has been published in the Weekend Australian. "On the night after we made our on-field report about Harbhajan, I had a phone conversation with a senior member of the Indian touring party, who asked me straight to drop the complaint," Ponting wrote.
"Why do we need to keep it quiet?" I asked. His reply had nothing to do with Harbhajan's guilt or innocence; this fellow was more concerned with how events were going to transpire and tried to convince me it might not be worth the stress of going ahead with what might well be a prolonged legal process."
The conversation happened after play on day four, the evening before Harbhajan was suspended in a late-night hearing with the match referee Mike Procter. As it turned out, the ban was overturned, but only after a bitter period during which India considered whether to go ahead with the rest of the tour. Ponting said there was no chance he was going to back down and withdraw Australia's complaint.
"I was determined to see that justice would be done but I knew from the moment I put my mobile back in my pocket that the investigation might not be as straightforward as the authorities hearing the evidence, making the right decision and then we all move on," he wrote. "It would not look good for Indian cricket for one of their senior players to be convicted of racial abuse, and from the time their officials realised we were not going to give ground - which was probably the moment this brief conversation ended - they set out to make sure that did not happen."
Ponting also detailed how he was stopped in his tracks when he learnt from Michael Clarke of the alleged racism that occurred on the third day of the Test. Ponting said Clarke shouted: "He's done it again. He just called Symmo a monkey again."
Ponting said as soon as the incident occurred he had flashbacks of the ODI in Mumbai last October, when Symonds had informed the team that Harbhajan had called him a monkey. He said the squad had debated in Mumbai whether to do anything about it and Symonds eventually decided to deal with Harbhajan himself.
"He walked out of our dressing room, knocked on the Indian team's door, asked to see Harbhajan, confronted him and said flatly, 'Don't do it again'," Ponting wrote. "When Symmo returned to our room, he told us that after he explained how much the insult had affected him, while Harbhajan had not admitted that he said it, he did acknowledge that it was unacceptable, had apologised for any offence, and assured Symmo there'd be no repeat.
"The two men shook hands. On that basis, we decided that the right thing to do was exactly what our critics told us we should have done in Sydney: we gave him another chance. We just let it go."
Ponting said that in Sydney he was keen to show Symonds that he had the support of his team-mates and captain. He said that even though Sachin Tendulkar, who was batting with Harbhajan at the time, tried to smooth over the incident, once Ponting had mentioned it to the umpire Mark Benson it was no longer up to the players.
"Benson went back to his position, while I made a point, as I walked past the two batsmen on my way to the slip cordon, to say to the Indian spinner, 'I hope you haven't said that again'," Ponting wrote. "To which Tendulkar promptly replied, 'Leave it alone. I'll fix this, I'll sort this out.' But it was too late for that. I'd already spoken to the umpire. It was out of my hands."
Ponting's recollections came barely a fortnight after Adam Gilchrist reignited debate over the Sydney Test with his autobiography. Gilchrist queried the change in Tendulkar's evidence from the initial hearing to the appeal and told of the disappointment in the Australian camp when Harbhajan's appeal was upheld.