10 years after Bhajji-Symonds spat, referee Mike Procter recalls how he ended up as ‘guilty party’
Sydney Cricket Ground; January 2008. Australian captain Ricky Ponting complains to match referee Mike Procter about Harbhajan Singh calling Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’. At the listening to, Sachin Tendulkar, who was on the non-striker’s finish in the course of the incident, would say he couldn’t make out something. Later he would insist that Harbhajan had really mentioned “teri ma ki c***’, a Hindi cuss phrase, however not a racist sledge. Harbhajan wouldn’t testify, claiming he couldn’t communicate English. The Indian supervisor, Chetan Chauhan, would exhibit footage of prince and princess with monkey heads to emphasize that monkeys had been deities and no Indian would insult them.
In his not too long ago launched autobiography, Caught In the Middle, former South Africa all-rounder and one-time ICC match-referee Procter has relived the controversial Sydney Test from India’s 2007-08 tour of Australia in an aptly named chapter ‘Monkeygate and the mess that followed’. The guide is co-authored by main South African cricket author Lungani Zama and revealed by Pitch publication.
Recalling these troublesome days after he discovered Harbhajan responsible of a racial slur and banned him for 3 Tests, a verdict that was later overturned on the enchantment the place Tendulkar modified tack, Procter says, “the entire thing was weird”.
Speaking to The Sunday Express about Tendulkar’s function, Procter says, “It was very disappointing. If he had said that (him hearing Harbhajan say ‘ma ki c***’ and not monkey) upfront, it would have been a whole different version. If Sachin had said that he had heard this, it was to be one person’s word against the other. It was going to create doubt and so he (Harbhajan) would not be (held) guilty on racism charges.”
Elaborating within the guide, Procter writes: “The words ‘monkey’ and ‘ma ki’, heard 22 yards away, must sound very similar, and that entire episode could have been a high-profile case of lost in translation. But Tendulkar never came forward with that version to us in the initial hearing, which left me with very little choice.”
About Harbhajan’s self-confessed linguistic limitations, the South African nice says, “Harbhajan speaks English as good as I do. So he (Queen’s Counsel Nigel Peters, the ICC-appointed legal help at the hearing) said that they can have an interpreter, but he refused. Harbhajan didn’t offer anything… it was surprising that he did not argue.”
In the guide, Procter says that India’s lack of arguments left him with no alternative. “He (manager Chetan Chauhan) informed Ponting that the racism charge was completely made up, because as Indians, it was just not possible for them to be racist… To throw out Australia’s charge on the assumptive grounds that it was impossible for Indians to be racist would have made a mockery of the entire hearing.”
Remembering Chauhan’s testimony, he writes: “Chetan then produced an album of photos, with princes and princesses in regal dress, but with monkey heads. He said that monkeys were an Indian deity, further reiterating their point that the entire episode had been made up, because they wouldn’t want to insult monkeys.”
In his biography, Tendulkar had given his model of the occasions. “The incident arose because Andrew Symonds had been continually trying to provoke Bhajji… While walking up to Bhajji to try to calm things down, I heard him say ‘Teri maa ki…’ to Symonds. It is an expression we often use in north India to vent our anger, and to me it was all a part of the game,” he wrote.
Tendulkar wasn’t comfortable concerning the listening to both. “I had taken exception to us being labelled liars by the match referee, Mike Procter, who had mentioned in his statement that ‘I believe one group is telling the truth’. That he banned Bhajji for three Test matches seemed to us to show which group, in his opinion, was lying. It is never a pleasant thing to be called a liar and I was extremely angry. In the end justice prevailed.”
What makes Procter unhappy is how he nearly turned a persona non grata for the nation that he may be very keen on. “I have always really enjoyed India, I got along with the people there. I was the coach of the South African team that visited India in 1991. I played against India for Gloucestershire. I enjoyed match-referring India games. But after the Harbhajan Singh thing, suddenly people were not that friendly. I don’t want to mention any names but I have seen one or two ex-players, they too weren’t really friendly.”
It didn’t finish there; Procter was the last-minute mysterious exclusion from the listing of match-referees for the 2009 Indian Premier League that came about in South Africa a few 12 months after the Monkeygate affair. “I was phoned by a woman who was handling the umpires and match-referees. They sent me the itinerary. Lalit Modi was the in-charge at that time, he had to counter sign, it was a formality and then they said ‘No’. I heard through a friend of mine they had blackballed me.”
Procter wasn’t the one casualty of this episode. Andrew Symonds performed his final Test later that 12 months, leaving the sport on a bitter observe. “Eventually the two guilty parties were Andrew Symonds and me. He is being told that he is a liar and that crucified his career, I know.”
The guide has extra particulars: “The complete ‘Monkeygate’ scandal began to make sense to me within the months and years that adopted, as I learnt that Cricket Australia had leant closely on the players to take the racism allegation away, and as a substitute make it a matter of abuse. The looming risk of India pulling out of the tour would have main repercussions for Cricket Australia, and a possible lawsuit from the massive broadcasters.
“That, to me, was unimaginable. How a nationwide board might attempt to persuade senior players to downgrade an allegation as critical as racial abuse, with a purpose to keep ties with one other board was mind-boggling, nevertheless it was the primary time I realised simply how a lot of a stronghold India had on the sport,” he writes.