The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal explained

The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal explained

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The 2nd Test between Australia and India in Sydney 2008, till date, remains as one of the most controversial, scarred games in Test history, due to the atrocity of umpiring that was seen in the match. However, there was a bigger controversy that overshadowed everything else - The Monkeygate scandal.

What is the Monkeygate Scandal?

The ‘Monkeygate Scandal’ refers to the verbal altercation between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh in the second Test between India and Australia in Sydney in 2008, where the off-spinner allegedly hurled a racist abuse at Symonds, referring to him as a ‘Monkey’.  

How and when did the incident break out?

The incident broke out in the second Test between India and Australia in Sydney, in the former’s tour Down Under back in 2008. Having been thrashed in the first Test at the MCG by a whopping 337 runs, the Indians, led by Anil Kumble, entered Sydney hoping to put on a better showing. However, the game was marred by controversy right from the very beginning, as on-field Umpire Steve Bucknor gave multiple dubious decisions in the first innings - all in favour of Australia. The decisions included an incorrect caught behind call for Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting - with Australia 45/2 - and two incorrect calls - a caught behind and a missed stumping - for Andrew Symonds, with the score 191/6 and 423/7 when the decisions were made. Eventually, Australia went on to post a mammoth 463 in their first innings, something that irked the Indians, as they firmly believed they could have rolled out the Aussies under 300 if not for the dubious calls. 

Hence, tempers were already soaring when India walked out to bat. Centuries from the bat of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman and a valiant fifty from Sourav Ganguly, though, meant that India were well on their way to taking a first innings lead, but what occurred at the end of the 116th over of the Indian innings rocked the cricketing world for months to come. 

With the score 451/7 and the Aussies getting desperate, pacer Brett Lee was turning up the heat and was delivering many a rapid thunderbolt to Harbhajan. After fending off the last ball of Lee’s over, Harbhajan walked all the way over to the other side of the wicket and had a word or two with Symonds -  something that looked pretty normal, real-time. However, hell broke loose within no time, and within seconds of the duo’s verbal altercation, on-field umpire Mark Benson had some strong words for Harbhajan, who, on camera, looked bewildered by the words of the umpire.

It was then brought to notice that the Aussies had complained to the umpire about Harbhajan having made a racist remark towards Symonds, reportedly having called the Australian a ‘monkey’. And soon, both Ponting and Matthew Hayden had long, separate chats with the Indian spinner, with Sachin Tendulkar overseeing the incident unfold right in front of his eyes, being the batsman at the other end. 

How did the teams react to the incident?

While both Harbhajan and Sachin were adamant that no kind of racist abuse was hurled at Symonds, the Australians were furious and eventually decided to press charges against the Indian off-spinner for the alleged racist comments. In fact, the bad blood was evident on the field, too, as the Aussies refused to shake hands with Indian skipper Anil Kumble post the conclusion of the Test. However, Adam Gilchrist clarified later that the Australian players did indeed go to the changing room of the Indian players after the match and shake hands. 

Did the ICC take action on Harbhajan?

In the immediate aftermath of the match, Mike Procter, the match referee, ruled at the end of a four-hour hearing that Harbhajan had breached Level 3 of the ICC's Code of Conduct and slapped the Indian off-spinner with a three-test ban. 

"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Harbhajan Singh directed that word at Andrew Symonds and also that he meant it to offend on the basis of Symonds' race or ethnic origin,” said Procter, announcing the verdict.

However, the Indian team management, who were clearly unhappy with the verdict, initially threatened to pull out of the tour, before appealing against the ban. What followed was an official court hearing at Adelaide’s Federal Court building, with Ponting, Hayden and Clarke appearing as witnesses for Symonds, and Sachin appearing as the witness for Harbhajan Singh. Eventually, ICC appeals commissioner Justice John Hansen found Harbhajan ‘not guilty’ of racially abusing Symonds and thus, the three-match ban was overturned and the off-spinner was instead slapped with a 50% match fee fine. 

Were the allegations true?

Inconclusive evidence was what led to the court dismissing the case and, to be honest, no one till date knows if Harbhajan actually ended up racially abusing Symonds. While India have continued to maintain that it was never a racial abuse, the Aussies have been stubborn that Symonds was indeed subject to racism and even went on to express their disappointment over the court verdict. Gilchrist even went as far as calling Sachin Tendulkar as a ‘sore loser’ in his autobiography, “True Colours: My Life”. 

Have things cooled down post the incident?

Certainly. And in many ways, the IPL played a massive role in doing the same. Harbhajan and Symonds incidentally found themselves playing for the same franchise, Mumbai Indians, in the IPL and have since managed to put behind the ugly spat that ensued in 2008. However, every now and then, Symonds still indicates that he was deeply affected by the incident, subtly indicating that he still hasn’t forgiven Harbhajan for the alleged racist abuse. 

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