Andrew Symonds (C) looks back at Indian batsman Harbhajan Singh, with Sachin Tendulkar (R) nearby.
Andrew Symonds (C) looks back at Indian batsman Harbhajan Singh, with Sachin Tendulkar (R) nearby.

Monkeygate reopened: Why Aussies couldn’t cop Sachin

A DECADE on from the most spiteful Test series in modern history, the match referee who oversaw the extraordinary scenes has revealed new support for Australia's players.

The Monkeygate scandal nearly led to India abandoning their tour of Australia, after match referee Mike Procter handed down a three-Test ban to controversial Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh for allegedly racially vilifying Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds.

Numerous Australian players alleged Harbhajan had called Symonds a 'monkey' during the match while the champion off-spinner was batting with Indian great Sachin Tendulkar.

Australian greats Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist were furious, and later acted as witnesses as the three-match ban was challenged by an equally ropeable Indian team.

The sanction was overturned when Tendulkar, who had previously provided evidence that he'd heard nothing, came forward to say he'd heard Harbhajan utter an offensive Indian phrase that included the word "maa ki" instead.

Harbhajan Singh walks past Andrew Symonds during the controversial 2008 Test.
Harbhajan Singh walks past Andrew Symonds during the controversial 2008 Test.

Procter, who is promoting his new book Caught in the Middle, Monkeygate, Politics and Other Hairy Issues; the Autobiography of Mike Procter, addressed the reason controversial incident in a telling interview with Wisden on Sunday.

He insists he wouldn't change any of his actions and reiterates his disappointment in Harbhajan for refusing to comply with the initial investigation - claiming to not speak English, and declining to speak through a translator when Procter was following up on Symonds' claims.

And then there's Tendulkar, who Procter criticises for changing his story at the last minute.

India's Sachin Tendulkar (R) chats with teammate Harbhajan Singh (L) and Australia's Ricky Ponting (2nd R) and Adam Gilchrist during the Test.
India's Sachin Tendulkar (R) chats with teammate Harbhajan Singh (L) and Australia's Ricky Ponting (2nd R) and Adam Gilchrist during the Test.

"(Tendulkar said things) which he didn't say at my initial hearing," Procter told Wisden.

"That was very unfortunate, because that could have led to a different outcome completely.

"The world appreciates, and I appreciate, what a good guy Sachin is and what an unbelievable cricketer he is.

"But from my point of view, I had my hearing at which he had the chance to say something.

"He had the chance to say what he saw of the situation as it happened out there. And in my hearing he said that he didn't hear anything.

"...It was very unfortunate that he didn't say that at my hearing. The stories were that if the appeal wasn't upheld, that the Indians would go back home. That was the situation."

And that is the crux of what enraged the Australians so much, as then-captain Ricky Ponting has since explained.

Australia celebrate victory in the 2008 SCG Test against India.
Australia celebrate victory in the 2008 SCG Test against India.

"Sachin was trying to look after his mate and changed his story a couple of times to suit," Ponting told CricInfo in 2013.

Gilchrist would describe the appeal which led to Harbhajan being cleared as a "joke".

"The Indians got him off the hook when they, of all people, should have been treating the matter of racial vilification with the utmost seriousness," Gilchrist wrote in his book True Colours.

Procter insists there's nothing he did that he would change and admits it hurts that his relationship with India's players turned sour after the incident.

But he is firm in his belief that what Harbhajan uttered a racist remark.

Harbhajan Singh celebrates dismissing Ricky Ponting at the SCG, 2008.
Harbhajan Singh celebrates dismissing Ricky Ponting at the SCG, 2008.

"It was very unfortunate," Procter said.

"But all I wanted to do was do my job correctly. You've always got to look at two sides, that's the one thing you learn how to do as match referee.

"Beyond a reasonable doubt is the terminology used, and it was beyond reasonable doubt that unfortunately Harbhajan in this case was guilty.

"And I'm not calling him a racist, I'm just saying that in this case, what happened was a racist remark."

Tendulkar has taken exception to being branded a liar.

"That (Procter) banned Bhajji (Harbhajan) for three months seemed to show up which group in his opinion was lying," Tendulkar wrote in his autobiography Playing It My Way.

"It is never a pleasant thing to be called a liar and I was extremely angry."


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