Harbhajan Singh got off lightly, say the critics. But when one reads the entire judgment of Justice John Hansen in the Singh appeal, it’s clear that the real culprit is Andrew Symonds.

There is one key finding in Justice Hansen’s judgment which is being conveniently overlooked by Cricket Australia and its barrackers in this country. Justice Hansen acknowledges that Singh was lucky. When assessing the penalty to be imposed, Justice Hansen didn’t have before him all of Singh’s “priors”. He also acknowledged that it might not have made a difference to the fine he imposed because it was Symonds who essentially lead Singh into hot water.

Here’s what Justice Hansen found occurred in the Sydney Test match which led to the exchange between Symonds and Singh:

It is apparent that the heated exchange arose because Mr Symonds took exception to the appellant patting the bowler Mr Lee on the backside. I have reviewed the television evidence of what occurred. It is clear that Mr Lee bowled an excellent yorker to Mr Singh who was fortunate to play the ball to fine leg. As he passed Mr Lee while completing a single Mr Singh patted Mr Lee on the backside. Anyone observing this incident would take it to be a clear acknowledgement of “well bowled”.

However Mr Symonds took objection to this and at the end of the 116th over he approached Mr Singh telling him he had no friends among the Australians in foul and abusive language. Mr Singh became angry and responded in kind. It was accepted by Mr Symonds that some of Mr Singh’s response was in his native language.

On the basis of these findings, Symonds could be charged under cricket’s Code of Conduct with a Level 1 offence of “Using language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting,” or a Level 2 offence of “Using language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or of a seriously insulting nature to another player, umpire, referee, team official or spectator.”

That Symonds should have expected Singh to hurl abuse back at him is made clear by Justice Hansen in this finding:

Mr Singh had innocently, and in the tradition, of the game acknowledged the quality of Mr Lee’s bowling. That interchange had nothing to do with Mr Symonds but he determined to get involved and as a result was abusive towards Mr Singh. Mr Singh was, not surprisingly, abusive back. He accepts that his language was such as to be offensive … But in my view even if he had used the words “alleged” an “ordinary person” standing in the shoes of Mr Symonds who had launched an unprovoked and unnecessary invective laden attack would not be offended or insulted or humiliated…

Given the findings of Justice Hansen can we expect Andrew Symonds to be charged under the Code of Conduct? If fairness and constancy were the order of the day, he would be, but in the world of international cricket such values appear lost in the mists of time.

Peter Fray

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