India’s greatest-ever batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, has criticised South Africa’s Mike Procter in his new autobiography, Playing It My Way, over the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal involving Australia in 2008.
Procter was the match referee at that volatile Sydney Test, which India lost, and Tendulkar reveals the visitors came close to abandoning the tour.
‘I must reiterate we were very serious about the boycott … and we were fully prepared to accept the consequences of walking out on the tour, knowing that such an action might have resulted in the ICC banning the Indian team,’ Tendulkar writes. India were due to travel to Canberra ‘to lodge an appeal against the decision and in a gesture of protest also decided not to travel to Canberra … It was a time for stern words and strong action’.
Australia’s players also felt let down by their own board which they viewed as wanting to rescue the tour rather than back Andrew Symonds, when an opponent was alleged to have racially abused him. Tendulkar is adamant he heard Harbhajan Singh say ‘Teri maa ki‘ (Your mother …) to Symonds, while the Australians were adamant they heard the Indian spinner call him a big monkey.
Tendulkar writes that he was angry with Procter as match referee, ‘and felt that the hearing in Sydney [after the Test] had been something of a farce.’ Tendulkar took exception to the words used by Procter in his statement: ‘I believe one group is telling the truth.’
Tendulkar writes, ‘That he banned Bhajji for three months seemed to show up which group in his opinion was lying. It is never a pleasant thing to be called a liar and I was extremely angry.’
Tendulkar said he was surprised that the Australians, led by Ricky Ponting, lodged a formal complaint about Harbhajan’s remark. ‘What surprised me most was the haste with which the Australians had lodged their complaint.’
He added that he found out later that during Australia’s tour of India in October 2007, following an incident in Mumbai, the two boards had instructed their captains to report any incident with ‘racial elements’ to the match referee. ‘Even so, I still believe that the matter would not have been blown so out of proportion if Ponting had discussed it with the captain Anil Kumble, Harbhajan and the Indian team management before reporting the incident to Mike Procter, the match referee. In turn, Mike Procter could also have handled the matter with a little more sensitivity.’
He describes what he considered ‘rather unsportsmanlike conduct’ by some of the Australians as India fought unsuccessfully to save the match.
‘By the fifth day we were batting to save the game. Mind you, there is little doubt in my mind that we would have drawn had it not been for what seemed to us to be mistakes by the umpires and some rather unsportsmanlike conduct by a few of the Australian players. Rahul Dravid was given out caught behind off Symonds for 38 by umpire Bucknor when his bat seemed to be a fair distance away from the ball. The wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist was standing up to the stumps at the time and was in the best position to see if the ball had touched Rahul’s bat. Yet he who prided himself on walking off if he nicked the ball appealed for the caught-behind and to our disbelief we saw the umpire raise the finger. It was a shocking decision. Some of us actually wondered if Rahul had been given out lbw.’
Following Dravid’s dismissal, Ganguly was given out when, ‘Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting decided to appeal for what we thought was a grassed catch at slip. Finally, umpire Bucknor gave Dhoni out leg-before when to us the ball would clearly have missed the stumps. It seemed that every decision that could go against us had done so.’
In Gilchrist’s 2008 autobiography, the Australian wicketkeeping great took aim at Tendulkar for changing his story at Harbhajan’s appeal hearing, after initially saying he hadn’t heard what his batting partner had said.
‘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,’ wrote Gilchrist, who also said Tendulkar was sometimes ‘hard to find for a changing room handshake after we have beaten India’.
Tendulkar, in his book, says he made it a point to, ‘go out and congratulate the Australians, regardless of all the controversy and disappointment.’ He acknowledges that the gesture was returned in Perth, after India beat the home side, when ‘Brett Lee and Adam Gilchrist also came to our dressing room to congratulate us and it was a gesture that was much appreciated’. The team had arrived in Perth, ‘with a sense of purpose. We all felt hurt by what had transpired in Sydney and the best way to vent our anger was on the cricket field. And that is what we did’.