How Andrew Symonds, who retired from all forms of the game yesterday, could have avoided the Monkeygate controversy had he not assumed wrongly that Harbhajan was arguing with Brett Lee in the 2008 Sydney Test
Andrew Symonds, who retired from all forms of the game yesterday, may have been one of the finest talents to emerge from Australia in recent years. But his assumption sparked off a huge row in 2008, which cricket lovers and media call Sydneygate or Monkeygate.
Harbhajan Singh walks past Andrew Symonds on Day Four of the second
Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 5, 2008.
History has recorded that Harbhajan Singh allegedly racially abused Symonds during the Sydney Test of 2007-08. Symonds' teammate during that Test, Brett Lee, in his book My Life has indicated that the Queenslander may have assumed that Harbhajan had an argument with him (Lee) which led to Symonds giving the Indian, who was batting at the time, some lip service.
Here's what Lee writes in his autobiography published by Ebury Press: "I was in the second over of a new spell and wanted to try to unsettle Harbhajan. I'd already sniffed him a couple of times, and was bring urged on by Symo (Symonds' nickname) saying, 'Come on, Binga, (Lee's nickname) let's have a wicket here.'
After the previous umpiring mistakes, I could feel a definite edginess and niggle between the teams. On my fourth ball, I went for the inswinging yorker. Harbie (Harbhajan's nickname) just managed to keep it out and squeezed a single to midwicket.
"As we passed on the pitch I said to him: 'Nearly got ya!' He then gave me a friendly pat on the backside and said: 'Well bowled.' It wasn't meant sarcastically or to aggravate me; there was no malice in it at all. I didn't have a close relationship with Harbhajan, but I knew him well enough to have the odd chat with him in hotels, or to walk past him and say a quick 'hi'.
"On the field, all the Australians knew him as an agitator who carried on; we actually thought he thrived on winding his opponents up. So, when Symo saw our exchange, he might have thought Harbie was being a smart arse. As he crossed to the other side of the pitch, Symo said a few words in passing to Harbie.
I was heading back to my mark and heard nothing that was said, and to this day, I still haven't asked Symo." The next thing Lee discovered was "a series of" discussions involving Harbhajan, Symonds, Matthew Hayden, the umpires and Australia captain Ricky Ponting. He wrote that that he was glad not to be "out of the picture."
The rest is history.