Former captain Anil Kumble said that pulling out of the 2007-’08 Australia Tour following the controversial Sydney Test could have been an “acceptable” option but his side continued the series to set an example by winning the remaining matches under trying circumstances.
The Sydney Test in January 2008 was marred by the infamous Monkeygate scandal where off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was handed a three-match ban by the ICC for allegedly racially abusing Andrew Symonds. Kumble had famously said back then: “Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say.”
India had appealed against the decision and there were also talks about a possible pulling out of the Tour. Harbhajan was eventually let off with a fine of 50% of his match fees by New Zealand High Court judge John Hansen.
“You know as a captain you’re generally tuned to take decisions on the field. Here I was faced with something, which was off the field, to take a decision in the larger interest of the game,” the legendary spinner told R Ashwin during his Youtube chat show DRS with Ash.
The 49-year-old Kumble, the country’s highest Test wicket-taker with 619 wickets from 132 matches, said he felt Harbhajan was wronged.
“We had to obviously be together as a team but the challenge was that there was a lot of talk about the team wanting to come back at that point in time, and leave the tour and come back. Yes, you know, probably [people] would have accepted that the Indian team was wronged and that’s why they came back.”
There were also quite a few poor umpiring decisions, specially in the Sydney Test which went against India. Umpire Steve Bucknor, who was officiating the Test, recently accepted the errors.
My mistake might have cost India the match: Umpire Steve Bucknor on infamous Sydney Test in 2008
“We got around as a unit and then we sort of took a decision to continue and make sure that we go on and win the next couple of matches because that would be the best message that we can give back to our fans. Because whenever an Indian team travels abroad, the fans expect the team to do really well and win the series. I certainly believe that we had the ability to do that,” Kumble added.
India had lost the first Test by 337 runs and the controversial second Test by 122 runs but went on to win the third Test by 72 runs in Perth. The fourth and final Test in Adelaide ended in a draw.
Kumble said: “I think as a captain, or as a team, we had gone there to win the series. Unfortunately, with the first two results not going our way, the best result could have been a drawn series because two more Test matches remained and I just wanted to rally around the team.”
The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal and how it strained India-Australia cricketing ties
The result of Perth Test that followed is still hailed as one of India’s greatest away wins. Kumble said he had extreme clarity in his mind that he would bat first on a tough Perth pitch, a decision that paid off.
“In 2001-’02, the famous Australia series [the Harbhajan-Laxman series], that was the first time that suddenly things changed. That irrespective of what the situation is, we can certainly win from any situation. And then the Headingley Test match in 2002, that again changed the way we sort of thought about exploring Test matches and similarly the Perth Test match. Irrespective of what the sort of lead up to that Test was, outside of the game itself I think this team just came together. We were really strong as a unit and it showed on the field as well,” Kumble said.
Kumble had led India in 14 Tests, winning three, losing six and drawing five times after taking over the reigns from Rahul Dravid in 2007. He is the world’s all-time third highest Test wicket-taker and had an illustrious career that spanned from 1990 to 2008.
In this interview with Ashwin, Kumble also talked about his shoulder injury, a close call with tsunami in 2004 and more: