On This Day in 2008: A Racially Charged Row Between Harbhajan and Andrew Symonds Threatens to Split Cricket

There have been some rare instances when a Test match proved to be exciting and distressing at the same time. The Sydney Test between India and Australia in 2008 was one such occasion. One of the most controversial Test matches, it saw an aggressive stand-off between Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh and Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds. This soon took the shape of a racial controversy and came to be known as Monkey gate scandal.

This ‘Volcano’ erupted in the second Test match between Australia and India in the year 2008. This Test match was controversial right from its start. On-field umpire Steve Bucknor took many decisions in favour of Australia.

These dubious decisions included incorrect caught behind call for Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting — with Australia 45/2 — and two incorrect calls – a caught behind and a missed stumping – for Symonds, with the score 191/6 and 423/7 when the decisions were made. This led to Australia making a huge score of 463 in the first innings. Indian team was thoroughly infuriated with these decisions. However, the storm was yet to come.

It happened that India’s master blaster Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan were lambasting the Aussies with their impressive partnership. They were at 100-run stand while partnering for the 8th wicket.

At this moment, Harbhajan scored a boundary off Brett Lee’s delivery. Bhajji patted Lee on the back calling hard luck to him. Symonds decided not to stay silent and the all-rounder was recorded on the stump mic saying, “We don’t need it, do it to your own teammates.” Harbhajan also replied back with a word or two. It was the start of a never-ending chaos in the history of test cricket.

The verbal argument between both the players was followed by on-field umpire Mark Benson saying some strong words to Harbhajan. It then came to notice that Australians have complained to the umpire about Harbhajan passing a racist comment towards Symonds. He was reported to having said the Australian all-rounder “monkey”.

Match referee Mike Procter said that Harbhajan had breached level 3 offence of the ICC’s code of conduct and charged him with a three-Test ban. However, it was followed by a court hearing at Adelaide’s federal court building. Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke appeared as witnesses for Symonds. Tendulkar was the witness for Harbhajan.

Finally, there was some respite for Harbhajan from the ICC appeals commissioner Justice John Hansen who found him not guilty of passing racist remark towards Symonds. He was instead slapped with a 50% match fee fine.

However, it seems that the two players have decided to put behind the ugly spat and move forward. They played for the same franchise Mumbai Indians in the IPL.

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