Legendary India batsman Sachin Tendulkar has revealed that the national team almost abandoned their tour of Australia in 2007-08 after spinner Harbhajan Singh was banned for three games by match referee Mike Procter.
In his autobiography, Playing it My Way, Tendulkar talks about the infamous 'Monkeygate' incident where Singh allegedly called former Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds a monkey during a Test match in Sydney.
However, Tendulkar claims that Singh had not racially abused Symonds and that the entire incident "almost caused the tour to be called off".
"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 wrote.
After losing the Test in Sydney, India were scheduled to travel to Canberra for a tour game, but instead they decided "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."
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Tendulkar also recalled how infuriated he was when Proctor accused the Indian team of lying.
Accusations of lying
"That he banned Bhajji for three months seemed to show up which group in his opinion was lying," Tendulkar wrote. "It is never a pleasant thing to be called a liar and I was extremely angry."
In his autobiography, Tendulkar, who was at the crease with Singh when the incident occurred, describes what happened.
"Bhajji had gone past 50 when it all started," he wrote. "For a number of overs he had been telling me that Andrew Symonds was trying to get him riled. I asked Bhajji not to rise to it but to continue batting the way he was. I knew only too well that by retaliating he would just play into the Australians' hands. The best thing to do is to ignore such provocation. That's easy enough to say, but of course it's not always so easy to keep your cool at moments of intense pressure.
"Bhajji was doing his best and was actually trying to be civil with some of the Australian players, including Brett Lee, when all hell broke loose. Bhajji had playfully tapped Lee on the back after completing a run and Symonds at mid off took exception to this. He apparently did not want an opposition player meddling with Lee and once again hurled abuse at Bhajji. Bhajji is an impulsive and passionate individual and it was only a matter of time before he would retaliate, which he soon did."
Tendulkar added that the altercation between Singh and Symonds started "because Andrew Symonds had been continually trying to provoke Bhajj and it was inevitable that the two would have an altercation at some point. While walking up to Bhajji to try to calm things down, I heard him say 'Teri maa ki' (Your mother . . .) to Symonds. It is an expression we often use in north India to vent our anger and to me it was all part of the game."
The Little Master also stated that he was "surprised to see umpire Mark Benson go up to Bhajji and speak to him. While the umpire was talking to Bhajji, some of the Australian players started to warn him of the dire consequences of his words, presumably to rattle him and disturb his concentration. The ploy paid off when a few overs later Bhajji was out for 63."
After Singh had been dismissed, Tendulkar believed the entire incident was over. However, to his surprise, Symonds lodged a formal complaint stating that Singh had racially abused him by calling him a monkey.
"What surprised me most was the haste with which the Australians had lodged their complaint," Tendulkar wrote. "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."
Following the incident, Tendulkar remembers how India fought to save the Sydney Test, but conceded that they were robbed of a draw due to some controversial umpiring decisions and "rather unsportsmanlike conduct" by the Australian players.
"By the fifth day we were batting to save the game," he wrote. "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."
After Dravid was back in the pavilion, former India captain Sourav Ganguly was given out when Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting appealed a grassed catch at slip.
"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."
Since they were defeated in the Sydney Test, Tendulkar revealed that the Indian team 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."
However, Tendulkar concludes by saying that ex-Australia pace bowler Brett Lee and wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist congratulated the national team after they won the Test in Perth by 72 runs.
"Brett Lee and Adam Gilchrist also came to our dressing room to congratulate us and it was a gesture that was much appreciated," Tendulkar wrote.