IT remains the most divisive moment in Australia and India’s fraught cricket history but it all could have been avoided if Andrew Symonds had handled the situation better, according to Michael Clarke
The 2007-08 Border-Gavaskar series was marred by racial controversy in the second Test at Sydney when Symonds accused Harbhajan Singh of calling him a monkey on day three.
Harbhajan was subsequently charged for making a racist comment and banned for three Tests, but later had his charge reduced to using abusive language, resulting in a fine of 50 per cent of his match fee rather than a ban.
It was a controversial saga that Clarke believes Australia should have avoided, opining that Symonds took things too far.
“I was very close to Andrew (Symonds) at the time,” he said in Kolkata. “I asked him if he was racially vilified. It wasn’t about being racially abused for Andrew but a lot of other things.
“Now it’s not the right time to discuss those things. But I didn’t think he (Symonds) should have continued with that (incident). It should have ended right there.”
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Clarke was speaking alongside Indian icon Sourav Ganguly in Kolkata in a promotional event for his autobiography “My Story.”
Ganguly was a key part of the Indian team that toured Australia in 2007-08, notching scores of 67 and 51 in his two innings in Sydney – a Test the tourists lost 10 minutes from stumps on day five.
He does not believe Clarke’s book will paint the fairest picture of what actually happened that Test.
“I can guarantee you, the ‘Monkeygate’ chapter will not have its true picture in the book,” Ganguly, who was in the pavilion during Harbhajan and Symonds’ confrontation, said, “Because only a ‘Sardarji’ (leader) will know what Harbhajan tried to say.
“I was standing next to Harbhajan Singh and I know exactly what he meant.”
This is not the first time Clarke has claimed Symonds took things too far in Sydney.
In his autobiography, Clarke penned that his former teammate was not particularly offended by what Harbhajan had said, but pursued the racism charge in order to square a ledger with India.
“There was no great principle of racism at stake,” Clarke wrote. “I was never sure that Symmo felt deeply offended by what Harbhajan said, and he said as much in his autobiography.
“If he had been offended? Different story. But he wasn’t so he was pursuing it for different reasons than the racial abuse law was set up for.
“After the first hearing, I go to Symmo and say, ‘Mate, you haven’t been offended by this at all. This doesn’t bother you.’
“He says, ‘But I’m sick and tired of them getting away with it. We never get away with anything, but they do.’
“When it comes to suffering from racism in historic terms, we’re not going to be able to grab the high ground from India. So it would have been best to cop it and move on, rather than stage a fight we were never going to win.”
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The current series between India and Australia has not been quite as controversial, but things have threatened to reach boiling point, with Virat Kohli stopping just short of accusing Australia of cheating after the Bengaluru Test. That sparked a brief but bitter war of words between the two boards, but no charges were laid by the ICC with the BCCI withdrawing its complaint against Steve Smith for turning towards the dressing room for DRS advice on day four – a moment Smith later described as a “brain fade.”
“What’s happening here with the Steve Smith incident here, it’s been handled in the right way,” Clarke said. “And the BCCI have handled it pretty well. Now we head to Ranchi and we know we are going to have a very good Test match.”