India cricketer Harbhajan Singh has said that the controversial incident involving him and Andrew Symonds during the 2008 Sydney Test — dubbed the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal — was a tough phase but he was grateful for the support provided by then captain Anil Kumble and rest of the team as he had done nothing wrong.
“When I talk about the 2008 Test against Australia in Sydney, I think in that match, Ricky Ponting was the umpire himself, he was everything. He was claiming catches, then declaring the decisions. A lot of things happened,” the off-spinner told former India opener Aakash Chopra in a Youtube chat show titled Aakash Vani.
Harbhajan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar were involved in a 8th-wicket partnership that was frustrating Australia. At one point, Symonds was seen having a word with Harbhajan and chaos descended soon after that. It emerged that the Australians were convinced that Harbhajan had taunted Symonds with the word “monkey”, a racially offensive insult while the Indian stood firm that he had not said that word.
“Symonds and I were very close to each other when we were talking. If there was anyone else who was close it was only Sachin Tendulkar and even he was five-six steps away; there was no one else. But when the hearing happened, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting, came as witnesses. All these four said that they heard what Bhajji said to Symonds,” Harbhajan said.
“I said these guys were nowhere near the picture. If you watch the footage, they are nowhere. Even Sachin Tendulkar, who was standing close to us, did not know exactly what transpired between me and Symonds, only the two of us knew what we actually talked about,” he added.
Harbhajan said that the incident was covered in such a way that there were cameras on him all the time.
“But I was trapped. There was an enquiry and I was very scared as to what was happening with me. ‘Why always me, why I always get into trouble. l don’t want the attention and the cameras always following me’. Australian media made me Michael Jackson, I was constantly being chased by the cameras. I was made the superstar, it felt like I was the Sachin Tendulkar of the team,” the 39-year-old said, adding that Kumble and rest of the team promised to stand by him if he had not said anything wrong.
Adding to the voice of Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina, Harbhajan also said in the interview that the Indian cricket board should scrap the rule that prevents active players to participate in overseas T20 leagues.
“I think BCCI should allow players to play in foreign leagues. You have to allow non-contracted players whom you are not looking to choose in the Indian side. You have to make a system that players who have played 50 Tests or are above 35 years will seek permission from the board,” he said.
Harbhajan also remembered how the 2007 ODI World Cup was one of the worst phases of his career.
“That 2007 period... we were in such a bad phase, that I thought maybe it’s not the right time to play for India. The command went into wrong people’s hands who want to make Indian cricket poor. Who is Greg Chappell, why is he doing such things. I see the team that went to 2007 World cup...what a team. We couldn’t win because the atmosphere was bad. A team that is not happy, cannot win,” he said, adding how the T20 World Cup triumph later that year turned everything around.
You can watch the full interview here where he also talks about the controversy surrounding his action and how Sourav Ganguly made him a better bowler: