Andrew Symonds has revealed that an emotional Harbhajan Singh apologised to him in private – when the pair played together for Mumbai Indians in the IPL in 2011 – for racially abusing him during the 2007-08 “Monkeygate” scandal in India and Australia. Harbhajan, however, denied later on Twitter that he broke down.
Speaking to his former team-mates Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee for a Fox Cricket documentary to air on Monday night, Symonds said that Harbhajan had made the effort to apologise for what had taken place, and how it had affected Symonds, when they became team-mates in 2011.
“We go to a very wealthy man’s place for a barbecue, drinks and dinner one night and the whole team’s there and he had guests there, and Harbhajan said ‘mate, can I speak to you for a minute out in the garden out the front’,” Symonds said in Monkeygate: Ten Years On. “He goes, ‘look, I’ve got to say sorry to you for what I did to you in Sydney. I apologise, I hope I didn’t cause you, your family, your friends too much harm and I really apologise for what I said, I shouldn’t have said it’.
“And he actually broke down crying, and I could just see that was a huge weight off his shoulders, he had to get rid of it. We shook hands and I gave him a hug and said: ‘Mate, it’s all good. It’s dealt with’.”
Reflecting on the saga, which saw India threaten to withdraw from their tour of Australia in 2008 after Harbhajan was initially found guilty of racial vilification by the ICC before the verdict was overturned on appeal, Symonds said that it had been a pivot point leading to the end of his international career as he became disillusioned by the game and its political forces at work.
“I suppose this would be the moment where my whole persona to cricket changed. I didn’t realise the politics, the power, the money until this moment in my career,” Symonds said. “I didn’t realise how powerful one player, one incident, how much money was at stake and the ramifications.”
“I started drinking way too much and my cricket, my mindset – I started to go downhill, I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I went downhill pretty fast after this because I felt responsible for four of my mates, close mates, that I dragged into this whole situation and it beared very heavily on me.”
Symonds and the Australia team had always maintained that the incident at the SCG in January 2008, when Harbhajan was alleged to have called the allrounder a monkey, broke a personal agreement between the pair not to stoop to similar levels after a hot-tempered ODI series in India prior to the start of the Australian summer.
“I think it was in the second one-day international in India, Harbhajan called me a monkey, so at the end of the game I went out of our dressing shed and knocked on their door and said ‘can I speak to Harbhajan outside please’,” he said.
“They were just having something to eat after the game so he comes out, and I said ‘look, this name calling stuff has got to stop, otherwise it’s going to get out of control, we’ve got a few good names for you boys and I’m sure you the same for us, so let’s knock it on the head and be done with it’, and we shook hands and I remember him saying ‘no problems boss, that’s the end of it’.”
Symonds conceded that the exchange which resulted in the second use of the word, resulting in an initial charge and suspension for Harbhajan for racial vilification, was instigated by him as he grew frustrated with his opponent’s niggardly approach and successful partnership with Sachin Tendulkar during the Indian first innings.
“He was batting well and it was that exact moment there when he tapped Binga on the arse,” Symonds said. “I think I was fielding at mid-off and I came in pretty hard [at him]. I’d taken a disliking to how he carried on when he got Punter out, and so I was probably looking for a fight.”
The pair would go on to gradually repair their relationship at the Mumbai Indians in 2011, culminating in a tearful exchange at a dinner party. Later that year, Harbhajan stated publicly that he had mended fences with Symonds, without going into detail as to how.
“I think Andrew Symonds is a lovely guy,” Harbhajan told News Corp. “I have played with him at the Mumbai Indians and I found out he is a really good guy. Me and Symo do not have any problems at all and we get on very well. I understand him now and I think he understands me.
“I am really happy he is enjoying his life and all I want is the very best for him. I know some people have said that we don’t get on too well. We had some problems but that is all in the past. We are friends. We played well together for Mumbai.”