Anil Kumble, the India captain during their 2007/08 Australia tour, has said that people “would have accepted that the Indian team was wronged” had they withdrawn from the tour after the Monkeygate incident.
During the 2008 New Year’s Test in Sydney, Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds were involved in a verbal altercation during which the Indian off-spinner allegedly levelled a racist slur against the Australia all-rounder.
Harbhajan was handed a three-match ban, which was overturned on appeal later, but it forced the Indian team to think about pulling out of the tour, with two Tests, a one-off T20I and a tri-series involving Sri Lanka yet to be played.
Kumble, while in conversation with R Ashwin on his YouTube channel, recalled how the Indian team thought of withdrawing from the tour, but then decided the best approach would be to try and draw the four-Test series by winning the third and fourth matches.
“You know as a captain you’re generally tuned to take decisions on the field,” Kumble said. “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. Yes, you know, probably [people] would have accepted that the Indian team was wronged and that’s why they came back.
“But I think as a captain, or as a team, we had gone there to win the series. Unfortunately, with the first two results not going our way, the best result could have been a drawn series because two more Test matches remained, and I just wanted to rally around the team. I was fortunate enough to have senior players, former captains, in the team.
“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 to 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.”
India won the next Test in Perth, but drew the last one at Adelaide as Australia won the series 2-1.