Reacting to Sunil Gavaskar's views on the raging Harbhajan Singh issue, former South Africa batsman Barry Richards has alleged that the former India skipper once tried to have him sacked as a television commentator for being a "racist".
Former New Zealand captain John Reid, who was also incensed by comments Gavaskar's made in his newspaper column, said the cricketer-turned-commentator should have kept mum on the Harbhajan Singh issue as he too works for the International Cricket Council (ICC).
"He wrote a letter to (South African broadcaster) Supersport, demanding that I be sacked because I was a racist," Richards told The Australian newspaper.
"I don't know why this (race) card is played all the time. It is fragmenting the cricket world," said the great batsman who could play only four Tests because of South Africa's apartheid policy.
Harbhajan was banned for three Tests for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct for allegedly calling Australia's Andrew Symonds a "monkey" following an incident during the second Test in Sydney. India lost the match by 122 runs.
But Harbhajan appealed against the ban and a hearing has been set for Jan 29-30 in Adelaide after the four-Test series, which India trail 0-2.
Gavaskar, who himself heads the ICC Cricket Committee, slammed the ICC match referee Mike Procter, a former 'white' South Africa Test player, for not listening to the Indian players' point of view.
Sachin Tendulkar, with captain Anil Kumble, Harbhajan, team manager Chetan Chauhan and media manager M.V. Sridhar, were present at the initial racism charge hearing by Procter. Harbhajan was banned after this.
"Millions of Indians want to know if it was a 'white man' taking the 'white man's' word against that of the 'brown man'. Quite simply, if there was no audio evidence nor did the officials hear anything, then the charge did not stand," Gavaskar wrote in his column.
"This is what has incensed the millions of Indians who are flabbergasted that the word of one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Sachin Tendulkar, was not accepted. In effect, Tendulkar has been branded a liar by the match-referee," he said.
John Reid, also a former ICC referee, was shocked at Gavaskar's comments.
"That's a shocker. He should decide who he's working for. In his position he's not supposed to be on any side. He's supposed to be neutral," he told the paper.
Gavaskar implied that racism charge was the easiest to slap against a player.
"Just suppose a team wants to get rid of a player who is a threat to them. The simplest thing to do is to have some players to say that there was a racist taunt directed at them," wrote the former opener.
"Then, it's their word against the player who is accused, if one goes by the recent verdict. That's the danger in this verdict and that's why the Indian cricket board is absolutely right in backing its man."