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Anil Kumble, who captained the Indian side in the controversial Australia tour in 2008 which oversaw the infamous Monkeygate scandal, revealed that the players decided to stay back in order to give back to the fans. Kumble further spoke about the team’s thought process heading into the Perth Test.
The 2008/09 Border-Gavaskar Trophy between India and Australia Down Under remains, to date, as one of the most widely-discussed tours in cricket history, thanks to the controversy that came with it. A plethora of incorrect umpiring decisions by on-field umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor, which resulted in India losing the second Test in Sydney, led to the visitors being outraged, but it was the Monkeygate scandal involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, where the former allegedly racially abused the latter, which shifted world cricket’s attention to the game and the tour.
Tensions soared in the aftermath of the incident when Harbhajan was initially banned for three matches for making alleged racist remarks, and this, in turn, led to serious speculation that the touring Indian side were looking to pull out of the tour mid-way. That eventually didn’t happen, as India stayed back and completed the tour, and answering why the side decided to stay back, Anil Kumble, who was the Indian Test skipper when the controversy erupted, revealed that the team did so in order to give back to the fans. Kumble attested that it was a hard choice and said that the general public would have believed that the Indian side were wronged, had the team come back.
“You know as a captain you’re generally tuned to take decisions on the field. Here I was faced with something, which was off the field, to take a decision in the larger interest of the game. And one of our players [Harbhajan Singh] was obviously banned for three matches because of a racist remark – that was what the pronouncement was and we appealed. I felt he was wronged. We had to obviously be together as a team but the challenge was that there was a lot of talk about the team wanting to come back at that point in time, and leave the tour and come back. Yes, you know, probably [people] would have accepted that the Indian team was wronged and that’s why they came back,” Kumble told Ravi Ashwin in a YouTube chat show.
“We got around as a unit and then we sort of took a decision to continue and make sure that we go on and win the next couple of matches because that would be the best message that we can give back our fans. Because whenever an Indian team travels abroad, the fans expect the team to do really well and win the series. I certainly believe that we had the ability to do that.”
What followed the fall-out from Sydney was, much to everyone’s surprise, a highly-spirited comeback from the Indian side, who remarkably won the third Test in Perth to stun the home side. India batted first in the game despite experts opining that it was a no-brainer to bowl first on a bouncy WACA wicket but Kumble revealed that he was crystal clear in his mind that he would opt to bat if he won the toss. India won the game by 72 runs, after winning the toss and opting to bat, and Kumble drew parallels between Perth 2008 and Kolkata 2001 and said that both wins were significant game changers for Indian cricket.
“I think you need to have clarity of thought when you are encountered with such situations and I had extreme clarity that no matter what, if I win the toss I’m going to bat first because that’s the best way of winning the Test match. The only thought to me was how can I win this Test match, what’s the best way of putting pressure? In fact, when I went out to toss, just a few minutes before… there are a lot of former cricketers as commentators hanging around near the pitch, and some of them said it’s a field-first pitch. So I said, “okay, that’s your way of thinking, but I’m going to bat first no matter what”. So we batted first. Rahul [Dravid] batted really well and Irfan [Pathan] had a great game in that Test match.
“RP Singh bowled brilliantly. And then Viru [Virender Sehwag] got those couple of breakthroughs in the second innings. So beating Australia in Perth, I think, changed the entire way that we sort of looked at… In 2001-02, the famous Australia series [in India], that was the first time that suddenly things changed. That irrespective of what the situation is, we can certainly win from any situation. And then the Headingley Test match in 2002, that again changed the way we sort of thought about exploring Test matches and similarly the Perth Test match. Irrespective of what the sort of lead up to that Test was, outside of the game itself I think this team just came together. We were really strong as a unit and it showed on the field as well.”