Race row threatens Indian tour of Australia
Robert Chesshyre reports on the incident threatening to go far beyond the boundaries of cricket
Cricket, to the untutored eye the most placid of sports, gives rise to rows of near-diplomatic consequence. India's decision today to suspend their tour of Australia after a 'monkey-calling' incident is already being ranked alongside the infamous 'bodyline' England tour of Australia in 1932/33. It will be mulled over in far pavilions for a generation.
Poor umpiring decisions at the expense of the Indians and poor sportsmanship by the Australians created a tinder-dry climate in which one disputed (and, if true, shaming and hurtful) insult created a crisis that will stretch the blazered brigade who run the sport to the extremes of their fragile conciliatory powers.
Harbhajan Singh (right), the Indian spinner, allegedly called the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds a 'monkey'. The insult was 'proven' by match referee Mike Procter, who handed Harbhajan a three-test ban followed an incident in which Symonds failed to 'walk' when given not out, despite the fact, as he admitted later, that he knew he had been caught.
He went on to score a massive (and match-winning) 162. Symonds, the only 'black' player in the Australian team (he was actually born in England), sports dreadlocks and decorates his lips with a ferocious white sun cream.
Words uttered in haste are frequent in body-contact sports, but they tend to be forgotten after hot baths and a few beers. What makes Test cricket unique is the five-day span that allows injustices to fester.
In 1987 the England player Mike Gatting was embroiled in a similar high-voltage row, when he clashed with Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana; and two summers ago Pakistan forfeited a match when they walked off the field at the Oval after being accused of ball-tampering.
This match should have been celebrated for Australia winning their 16th consecutive game: it will now (sadly) remain for ever in the sport's annals as the 'monkey row' game. ·
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