I think he’s guilty. I really do: if you watch the exchange — as I have countless times, thanks to Indian cable television — you’ll notice a key moment. Symonds has clearly said something mean and nasty and, as he’s walking away, Singh lets it rip. At this point, Matthew Hayden is crossing over, and Symonds just notes what Singh said. Singh then turns around to Hayden, looking guilty, as if he thought only he and Symonds could hear each other.
Pretty circumstantial stuff, I know (sort of like giving a batsman out caught behind for looking behind after the ball passes his bat). And India’s point makes enough sense: barring any audio or video evidence, there’s nothing but hearsay and one man’s word against another’s.
But knowing Harbhajan, I just feel like he called the man a monkey. Again, I don’t think it’s because Harbhajan has anything against black people. Before last year’s series, Singh probably didn’t even know what calling a black man a “monkey” meant. He just said what he did because he knows Symonds (rightly) finds its usage particularly insensitive.
But especially after the scandal last year, when Indian audiences revealed their best side, Singh has no excuses, and he’ll find none here. I argued then that we should forgive those monkeying Indian fans because they knew not what they did (sorry; it’s Sunday), but Singh does not get that same benefit: he knew what he was saying, how it would sound to Symonds, and where he was. Whatever Symonds said to him, he should have kept it away from racial taunts.
Nor do I have a problem with the flimsy evidence: if you have to back every accusation of racial taunts with audio/video evidence, you seriously undercut the law’s execution. In that case, I can say whatever I want to you, as long as I’m away from the stump mics and close enough to you that no one else can hear a word. And, really, much as I loathe Hayden and Ponting, I don’t think they’d make up something like this. And, as much as I love Harbhajan, I do think, when he’s angry, he’d say exactly something along what he’s supposed to have said.
My only gripe is this: the Indian players have a problem understanding why an Australian can say all sorts of “personal and vulgar” things to other players (to use Harbhajan’s words) and get away with it. During the ODI series in India, Ricky Ponting said that the Indians had mixed up normal aggression with something else, and he sort of laughed off the Indian players who would immediately report bad behavior on the field to the umpires. No, no, Ponting said, a little “shit” and a “bastard” here and there is fine.
Well, to an Indian, it really isn’t. I’m not saying that calling a West Indian a monkey is the same as calling someone a bastard. It isn’t. But I do think it’s rational for someone who’s been called all sorts of mean things — and I think Symonds said a few choice words — to turn around and just let everything out. If you break the social conventions — the cricketing ones too! — then it’s all game, racial and otherwise.
Of course, there is a distinction, and Singh should have known this one. You can’t say certain things, no matter how provoked. But it would really help if they all behaved a bit better, and cut the prison-gutter talk out.