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Aussie media is up to more monkey business
by Suresh Menon
Mar 03, 2008
Enough is enough. If - and that’s a big If - there is proof that Harbhajan Singh made monkey gestures during the Sydney final, he should be banned. As much for the act as for the stupidity in indulging in it given the circumstances. If he didn’t, the Australian media that insist he did should be made to apologise - and perhaps to pay a hefty compensation.

The latest case against him seems to be based on a photograph in the Sydney Morning Herald. Under the headline: Harbhajan in hot water again, up to his armpits it shows the bowler scratching his right armpit with his left hand. The expression is of a man gaining relief from this most common of gestures.. Sportsmen spit, they scratch intimate parts of the body, they adjust body parts, they blow their nose or dig them. These are not great sights on television, but sportsmen are human, they perspire like the rest of us (rather more, in some cases), and to mistake an honest armpit scratch for a gesture pregnant with insult is both silly and outrageous.

Those who study these things know - and have been telling us - that the true monkey gesture is about scratching your right and left armpits with your right or left arms respectively. Right with right and left with left. Cross-scratching does not qualify as a racial insult.

Luckily, the story seems to have died a natural death, although the treatment meted out to Harbhajan in Sydney by the crowds has come in for dissection in the Indian media. They insulted his religion, said one news channel, they called out all kinds of obscenities said another, full of self-righteous wrath. The player himself behaved with remarkable restraint, even laughing at times and pointing out the special treatment to an umpire.

The newspaper with the photograph gave the lie to its own story by inserting this advertisement asking for public help: Do you know more? Did you see the alleged monkey gesture? Message 0424 SMS SMH (+61 424 767 764) or email us with information or images.

I rest my case.

Harbhajan has got support from unexpected quarters. Former skipper Allan Border is quoted as saying in the same newsaper: "I was over that side of the ground and Harbhajan was copping a fair bit of stick from the crowd. I didn't notice any gestures at all and I thought he handled himself pretty well.”

If there is one thing Australians cannot stomach, it is defeat; and if there is one group of people who seem more upset about it than the players, it is the media. Harbhajan is no saint, he is perfectly capable of looking after himself as he has shown while earning the title of public enemy number one in Australia. And if the crowds decide to barrack him no matter what, it is a part of touring. Muttiah Muralitharan knows all about it, as do most cricketers who tour Australia.

The Indians have been reacting with remarkable maturity. The beamer fired at Sachin Tendulkar by the world’s fastest bowler is a case in point. Now there is a serious offence - but the media ignored it. More to the point, the batsman did, or we could have had a bigger kerfuffle on our hands.

The players are behaving themselves. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the media.
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