Away from the glare of what was turning out to be a fascinating Test much, despite some of the worst umpiring ever seen in recent memory, one of the most infamous episodes in the game would come to light on a bright Sydney afternoon on day three.
After two lucky reprieves (India weren’t the only ones on the receiving end of some ridiculous officiating), batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh were wearing the Australians down. The eighth-wicket partnership had touched the 100-run stand, and India were closing in on the hosts’ first innings score of 463.
Harbhajan had just scored his third Test fifty, a vital contribution with his side looking to get back in the series after a hiding in the opening match. Tearaway quick Brett Lee aimed a bouncer at Harbhajan but the Indian all-rounder’s quick hands were upto the task, cutting the ball over slips for a boundary. The India No 8 said “hard luck” and applauded the bowler’s efforts by patting his bat.
All-rounder Andrew Symonds was having none of it. He has a word with Harbhajan and chaos descends. The Australians were convinced the ‘Turbanator’ had taunted Symonds with the word “monkey”, a racially offensive insult.
Matthew Hayden let Harbhajan know what he thought of it. Australia skipper Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke joined in as well. Umpire Mark Benson was alerted by the Australians of Harbhajan’s alleged racist remark, and the former has a word with the Indian. At the other end is an unperturbed Tendulkar, notching up another priceless century.
Back onto cricketing matters, Australia’s frustrations deepened as tail-enders RP Singh and Ishant Sharma chipped in with useful cameos to take India to 532. Tendulkar was unbeaten on 154 and India had a handy lead of 69.
Centuries by Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey (also getting two lives) ensured that the slender advantage India enjoyed was thwarted. Ponting set India a score of 333 to chase down with a day in hand.
A fired-up Australia made frequently inroads to peg India on the back foot. Lee removed opener Wasim Jaffer for a duck and workhorse Stuart Clark accounted for crucial dismissals of VVS Laxman and Tendulkar to leave India reeling at 54/3. To add to the many bad decisions that had gone against India, a well-set Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly trundled their way into the pavilion as Steve Bucknor and Benson erred yet again.
Despite captain Anil Kumble putting up a brave fight, Michael Clarke’s three-wicket burst saw the Australians to victory with just half an hour left in the Test.
At the post-match press conference, Kumble uttered the immortal words: “Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say.”
Australia’s boorish on-field behaviour, which had been drowned by unprecedented success over a decade, perhaps reared its ugliest head. Dailies across the country admonished their side. Their former players, too, pulled back no punches. Pacer Jeff Thomson’s views were probably the most scathing of them all.
“The Aussies act like morons and bullies and they can’t cop criticism from someone like myself,” the pace ace said. “I think it was appalling that none of the Australians went over and shook Anil Kumble’s hand at the end of the Sydney Test. They just played up and carried on like idiots like they normally do.”
It was later revealed that Kumble had requested Ponting to settle matters related to the incident surrounding Harbhajan and Symonds on the field. The Australians, nonetheless, pressed charges and the International Cricket Council summoned New Zealand High Court judge John Hansen to preside over matters.
Harbhajan was acquitted of throwing racial insults as Judge Hansen decided that the evidence was inconclusive. A precursor to the hearing was the spinner receiving a three-game ban from match referee Mike Proctor, who had heard a number of testimonies, including Tendulkar’s. The Board of Control for Cricket in India threatened to pull out of the tour. India eventually did not pull out but went on to record a famous win in the Perth Test. However, a draw in the fourth and final match saw Australia take the series 2-1.