The infamous 2008 Monkeygate scandal was perhaps the biggest controversy of Harbhajan Singh’s international career. In fact, it was arguably the biggest controversy that rocked Indian cricket since the turn of the century.
The off-spinner was accused of hurling racial abuse towards the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds during the infamous 2008 Sydney Test which is fresh in our memories to this date for more than one reason, pathetic umpiring being one of them.
After the match, the Indian off-spinner was slapped with a three-match ban by the International Cricket Council (ICC) but the decision had to be overturned after Indian players lodged a strong protest and stood behind their teammate.
The atmosphere had become so hostile that there was a possibility of the whole tour being called off but eventually the visitors decided against it after Bhajji’s ban was overturned and he was fined 50 percent of his match fee.
Legendary batter Sachin Tendulkar, who was one of the witnesses in the case, in his autobiography ‘Playing It My Way’, narrated the whole incident and revealed the exact words that Harbhajan had used and how the Australians mistook it for something else.
"They said I have testicles on my head" says @harbhajan_singh opening up on #Monkygate What was he going through mentally? How did he deal with it all? #BackstageWithBoria #Promo pic.twitter.com/8FAE7J5meF— Boria Majumdar (@BoriaMajumdar) January 29, 2022
“I want to state very clearly that the incident arose because Andrew Symonds had been continually trying to provoke Bhajji and it was inevitable that the two would have an altercation at some point. While walking up to Bhajji to try to calm things down, I heard him say 'Teri maa ki' (Your mother...) to Symonds. It is an expression we often use in north India to vent our anger and to me it was all part of the game,” Tendulkar wrote in his book.
For Harbhajan it was one of the lowest points in his career as he was being accused of something that he never said. Responding to the whole episode, the spin wizard said that he couldn’t understand why the whole Australian team ganged up on him and became witness to something that he never said.
Speaking to Boria Majumdar on his show ‘Backstage With Boria’, India’s second-most off-spinner in Test cricket said that he was very disturbed by this whole incident but even then he kept his mouth shut.
“Obviously I was disturbed, I couldn’t understand why it was happening. Why was there so much of... for something that hadn’t happened. They had six or seven witnesses for something that I had not spoken. No one had heard it and yet it was blown out of proportion,” Harbhajan told Boria Majumdar.
The 41-year-old legend said that the Australians insulted his religion by saying things like he had testicles on his head. Despite hearing such derogatory things he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to fuel the controversy further.
“The things that were said to me (while being) on the ground, ‘you have testicles on your head’, to hear such an insult towards my religion was the most difficult thing for me. I didn’t open my mouth then because if I did so, it would have resulted in more controversies,” said the legendary off-spinner, who retired from all forms of cricket in December 2021.
“Only I knew how I used to spend time in my room during that difficult phase. I never thought of having a word with the players or the management because they were anyways with me. In the whole incident, they were backing me but since my stress level had already reached beyond a certain level I did not want to stress anyone else,” he said, explaining why he kept things to himself.January 10, 2021
To be honest, we are not surprised by all this. The Australian players and spectators have a reputation of crossing all boundaries. It was not the first time an Indian player was subjected to such derogatory comments by a hostile Australian crowd, especially at the Sydney Cricket Ground.January 10, 2021
Last year, fast bowler Mohammed Siraj was racially abused by a section of the SCG crowd who called him ‘brown dog’ among other things. The pacer brought the whole incident to the match officials’ notice and those culprits were asked to leave the stadium.
Harbhajan was a true fighter not just on the field but off it as well. The way he conducted himself despite being subjected to such nasty comments, it only goes to show how much he cared about the Indian team and his teammates.