Melbourne, Nov.8 : Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting has claimed that when Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh indulged in a racist slur against all-rounder Andrew Symonds for the first time in Mumbai in October last year, the team management decided to let him off and give him another chance.
Revealing this in his "Captain's Dairy 2008", Ponting is quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that when Harbhajan repeated the same slur of calling Symonds a monkey during the nerve-racking Sydney Test in January this year, a chill went up his spine, and "certainly stopped me in my tracks."
Recalling the episode in Mumbai, Ponting says in his dairy: Back on the previous October 17, in Mumbai, immediately after we'd finished the final one-day international of a seven-match series, our player of the series, Andrew Symonds, a man of part Afro-Caribbean descent, informed us that when we had been fielding Harbhajan had called him a monkey.
If he had, it was a racist jibe, one that echoed some of the rubbish that had been coming from a section of the big crowds in the grandstands. We debated whether we should do anything about it.
Eventually, Symmo stood up and said, "I'll fix it". He walked out of our dressing room, knocked on the Indian team's door, asked to see Harbhajan, confronted him and said flatly, "Don't do it again".
When Symmo returned to our room, he told us that after he explained how much the insult had affected him, while Harbhajan had not admitted that he said it, he did acknowledge that it was unacceptable, had apologised for any offence, and assured Symmo there'd be no repeat. The two men shook hands. On that basis, we decided that the right thing to do was exactly what our critics told us we should have done in Sydney: we gave him another chance. We just let it go.
Coming to the incident in Sydney, Ponting claims that it started with Symmo, at mid-off, and Harbhajan, at the non-striker's end during an important stand with Sachin Tendulkar, exchanging a few words between deliveries. At the end of the over, as had occurred in Mumbai, Harbhajan marched towards Symmo, who was walking from mid-off to mid-off, so they were face to face, and then he said something. I didn't see that confrontation, as I was more concerned with talking to our left-arm quick, Mitchell Johnson, who was about to bowl the next over. That was when I heard Pup's shout.
"He's done it again! He just called Symmo a monkey again!"
The clarity I felt at this moment was a result, I believe, of the fact that from my perspective it was such a straight repeat of what had occurred in Mumbai, combined with the precise instructions concerning on-field racial abuse that I'd been given as captain by International Cricket Council (ICC) match referees before Test and one-day series over the previous two years. I've got to act on it," says Ponting.
"I talked to Symmo, to get his version as to what had happened. Then I went over and told umpire Mark Benson what we believed had just gone on, and I asked him to do something about it. Benson walked over to Harbhajan and Tendulkar, put his hand over his mouth so he couldn't be lip-read, and, I presume, asked Harbhajan if he had said what we were accusing him of saying. Harbhajan said he hadn't. Benson went back to his position, while I made a point, as I walked past the two batsmen on my way to the slip cordon, to say to the Indian spinner, "I hope you haven't said that again."
To which Tendulkar promptly replied, "Leave it alone. I'll fix this, I'll sort this out."
But it was too late for that. I'd already spoken to the umpire. It was out of my hands. I had done what I had been told to do. The match officials were going to have to work it out.
We were told at the end of the day's play that Mike Procter, the ICC match referee, would hold an inquiry into the incident at the completion of the Test.
James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, came into our dressing room at stumps on that third day. He sat down next to me, and asked, "What happened?' After I explained, he said, "What do you want to do? Where do you want this to go?' I said that if Harbhajan was found guilty, then I wanted him to be accountable for his actions. I also wanted Symmo to know his captain, his team-mates and the game supported him. I'd heard a lot about how racism in sport was unacceptable and I agreed with that sentiment totally.
One of the great frustrations of this affair was that the quality of our victory in this Sydney Test, and the excitement it generated, was largely lost in the angst that engulfed cricket in the days immediately after the game. By any measure, it was a remarkable win.