The Harbhajan Singh alleged race row has deeply divided the cricketing fraternity here into those who believe the Aussies are crying foul because they are being put under pressure by the same tactics they use and those who believe that the Australian players must have valid reason to complain or they simply wouldn't have.
Former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram is in the first camp and made no bones about it. “This is just not done,” said Akram, referring to the complaint made on Friday by Ricky Ponting to umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor, indicating that Harbhajan had abused an Aussie player in a manner intended to be seriously offensive.
Oz cry babies: Akram
“Many things are said on the field in the heat of the moment and are then left behind there. In fact, I have played large part of my cricket against the Aussies. Sometimes they said stuff, sometimes we did and then we moved on. We did not behave like cry babies and drag it to the officials.”
Akram said that the unfortunate part of all this was that Australia were the “worst” in the world when it came to sledging. “They do it constantly and much more than anyone else. So how they can go out and complain about other teams, I don't know,” said Akram.
He said it was indicative of practising double standards, one set of rules for the Aussies themselves and one for everyone else. “I also know Harbhajan and cannot believe that he would intentionally say something racist to anyone else.”
‘Can’t be thin-skinned’
In taxis and hotel bars, in queues outside the SCG and in talk shows on radio and television, people were giving their opinion on the controversy. Interestingly, many believed that Australia were getting a dose of their own medicine and finding that difficult to handle. "Unless the Australian cricketers have absolute proof, I cannot believe that an Indian would racially abuse an Aussie player," said Pakistani taxi driver Javed Masood. "In any case, for us (people from the subcontinent), Symonds is white, not black. We are the blacks, so how can we abuse him racially?"
While this logic might be oversimplistic, many believe that even if Harbhajan did call Symonds a monkey, the Aussie players would do well to ignore it. “Even if he said it, it would not have been intended as a racist abuse, only as something that would rile Symonds because of what happened in India,” said Patrick Shears, in town from Brisbane. “This is sport, things are said, they should not be so thin-skinned”.
Support for Mr Popular
Meanwhile, the Australian team came out strongly in favour of Symonds. Four of his teammates, including Ponting, Hayden and Gilchrist are expected to be among those who will testify that he was abused.
“We believe we have a very strong case,” Hayden said after stumps on Saturday. “It’s a scenario none of us want to be in, we love the game and we hope we can move forward… Andrew’s a very strong character who had a tough upbringing in Charters Towers (in north Queensland) and we all love him and Australia loves him.”
That they do. By everything we've seen so far, Symonds is really the new Mr Australia. He is easily the most popular of the Aussie cricketers, if the roars that greet his entry into the ground are any indication. His face is on billboards all over the place and in television adverts on every channel.
The Indian team's support of Harbhajan is evident in part - in the way some of the players kept walking up to him and chatting through the day, and the way they celebrated his football-style celebrations after Ponting fell — but seems more vague. Sourav Ganguly, asked about the issue after the game, said he didn't even know of it till this morning. “I wasn't aware what was happening. I saw something happening in the field when they were batting. So I don't know exactly what happened,” he said.
Again, asked about Harbhajan himself, he replied: “He is a competitive guy. He competes on the cricket field and all men can't be same... It’s not right for me to say that’s the way he should be. That’s the way he is and that’s the way we are. We'll react differently to different situations. And we as human beings will have to accept it.”
But he also said Harbhajan was a quality player. “Quality players will always produce their best under pressure. We saw Hayden today, at 2-20, if he had got out at that stage with the spinners bowling so well, the Australians could have been in trouble. But he didn’t. It's the same with Harbhajan.”