July 04, 2020
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Plain Bhajji On The Pitch

A Harbhajan-Symonds brush-off turning catastrophic, who knew? And then, it never stopped...

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Plain Bhajji On The Pitch
Australia's The Courier-Mail puts out a funkier take on Symonds
Looking back, the series had progressed without incident—in that there were no visible signs of sledging—till India's batsmen started pulling their weight and took the team past the home side's first innings total in Sydney. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was in the thick of an Indian revival, helping Sachin Tendulkar in a splendid rearguard action, when Australia seized a moment and swung world attention away from the contest.

If you saw Harbhajan's 'pat on the posterior' to paceman Brett Lee while returning to the crease, you would hardly have expected things to spiral into such a furore. Andrew Symonds, though, had different ideas and apparently passed a very personal comment. That was enough for the Indian offspinner, never one to mince words, to jump into the battle of words. Symonds told match referee Mike Procter during the hearing, "I'm a firm believer in sticking up for your teammate, so I stepped in and had a bit of a crack at Harbhajan, telling him exactly what I thought of his antics. He then had a shot back, which brings us to the situation we're facing."

Only Symonds and Harbhajan will ever know what was really said. But the world did get to see that they were not exactly inviting the other out for a pint that evening. By some accounts, Symonds said something rude about the Indian's sexual preferences and Harbhajan responded in kind, stinging the Australian with a mix of Punjabi and English. The Australians have insisted that Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey. The latter has denied using any words that can be construed as racially abusive. Anyway, it was the signal for Ponting (who's been struggling to read Harbhajan's bowling) to complain to the umpires first, run into the dressing room to draw manager Steve Bernard's attention to the alleged racial slur and carry the complaint to Procter.

There have been reports of Symonds attempting to defuse the situation, even asking the team not to press for action after a meeting with Harbhajan. But by then, it was too late, Ponting had already lodged a complaint. This is also why he could do little about Kumble's plea that evening that the two teams resolve the matter themselves. On a long night at the end of the game, Symonds then testified, leading to the three-Test ban.

Meanwhile, India vice-captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had drawn manager Chetan Chauhan's attention to Brad Hogg's using the pejorative 'bastards' against the Indians on the final day. In a tit for tat, Indians then lodged a complaint against Hogg. It couldn't get any messier. Now it looks like we'll hear the last of this only after New Zealand's Justice John Hansen reviews Bhajji's appeal.

Team India, of course, closed ranks and sprang to Harbhajan's defence, staying put in Sydney for 48 hours and almost putting the tour in jeopardy. Fortunately, the stay on the ban came in and the team has since moved to Canberra. In all this, even the BCCI was shaken up by its actions, the establishment wanting the tour to continue without issue. A good (or bad) thing was that the media was kept out of bounds, so any masala to clarify or fuel the controversy wasn't happening.

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