Jhe generation of 21st century cricket fans, Andrew Symonds was a true action hero. He had the physique of Superman, the mystery of Batman, the power of Hulk and the agility of Flash. No wonder cricket-mad kids have worshiped him for three decades. With a few batting strokes, a nifty mid-pace passing or off-turn, or a spectacular jump, dive and throw on the field, Symonds could turn a game around.
He was a gifted athlete, a born entertainer, and a reluctant celebrity. Above all, a real all-rounder, on and off the pitch. The news of his death is tragic. He leaves behind a wife, two children and a legacy of greatness.
Symonds was born in Birmingham in 1975, two days after the first Cricket World Cup kicked off in London. His parentage was a mixture of Afro-Caribbean and Swedish or Danish blood. Although he was adopted at 12 weeks old by teachers Ken and Barbara Symonds, and emigrated to Australia soon after, his instinctive genius as a junior cricketer has nurtured a mythology that went from town to town, on rivers and along coasts about the wonder of the big boy. whose father drove him 270 miles twice a week to hit and run over the house for Townsville Wanderers, a club whose bucolic grounds were 50 miles from where Symonds’ rolled-up car was found by police in the wilderness of the Hervey Ranges, west of town.
Despite making his debut as a freshman in 1994-95, scoring over 5,000 runs and taking over 100 wickets, Symonds came of age in his UK birthplace, bludgeoning his name into infamy. county cricket with several rousing innings including a famous 254 against Glamorgan in 1995 which included 16 sixes (and as many pints thereafter). Such feats of power and instinct have seen England shake their cage to claim their birthright and default Pommy. They even picked him in an England A team. But not for the last time, Symonds went his own way, defecting to his homeland.
If Shane Warne was Australian cricket’s brightest larrikin, Symonds was its craziest colonial boy, more at home mud-crabbing or deep-sea fishing than organized cricket with its traditions, rituals, his passages and his pressure tests. He showed up to a contract negotiation with Australia’s cricket bosses in suits wearing double pluggers and a mud-and-salt encrusted Akubra, swinging down the aisle with crates of crayfish on the back of his ute, fatty barramundi on ice and half a dozen empty cans at his feet.
The Australian hero of this 1975 World Cup was another burly showman, Gary Gilmour. But like ‘Gus’ Gilmour, ‘Roy’ Symonds never settled into his groove like the Allrounder Australia had dreamed of since the late Keith Miller sheathed his rapier, hung up his comb and went to the races. Although he wore green and gold in 1999 and showed glimpses of the pyrotechnics he became famous for, Symonds didn’t live up to his promise until 2003 when he lit up the Cup of that year with a pulverizing and undefeated 143 in the opener against Pakistan, leading his depleted side from 86-4 to 310-8 and setting in train the behemoth that won the tournament in Australia and made from Symonds a lock on the ODI side.
A first test came the following summer, but at first he looked uncomfortable in white. There was none of the swagger he carried in the short-form game, where savvy captains like Ricky Ponting knew not to give him a role but just let him go. Symonds struggled on that first Sri Lankan tour in 2003-04, then underperformed against the West Indies. His frustration manifested in cowardly behavior off the pitch. It was a pattern that repeated itself throughout his career and it cost him Test caps – but never fans.
After five tests, he had a batting average of 12.62 and a bowling average of 85.00. But with critics clamoring for his head, Symonds showed his mettle on the biggest stage of all, the MCG and the 2005 Boxing Day Test against South Africa. After a golden duck in the first innings, he fired 72 from 54 in the second dig, including a new Australian record for fastest Test 50 (40 balls) and backed it with five wickets.
But Symonds’ thirst often outweighed his ambition and, after showing up to training drunk or failing to heed wake-up calls for the team bus, he was dumped, called back and then dumped. again. In the years to come, Symonds would open up about his problems with excessive drinking.
For the fourth estate, he was manna – enigmatic, indomitable and unaffected. As a young cricket editor, I waited three days for an interview with Symonds to get a better headline when he and fellow Queensland outdoorsman Matthew Hayden were rescued from shark-infested seas after their fishing boat sank and left them clinging to an Esky lid.
Trying to track him down for an interview was like chasing marlin. Most of the time it was in the back and “out of reach” and you came back empty. When he appeared, however, it was brilliant. Symonds was gruff and dry, but funny and honest. He was laughing like a drain and his smile – a flash between two zinc cream lips forever – could light up a stadium.
Symonds’ 2008 season showcased his genius, courage, recklessness and controversy. He kicked off with an atypically disciplined but typically dynamic 162-step innings against India, taking his team from 134-6 to a final total of 463. In the same test, he came up against the Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh touching team mate Brett Lee. . Words were exchanged. Symonds’ remarks were profane, Singh’s were racist. A court intervened but he soured a triumphant game – and eventually lit the fuse on his final shot. Shortly after, Symonds was kicked out of the Australian side after missing a team meeting to go fishing. Instead, he took a gig in the Indian Premier League worth $1.8 million, the league’s second highest earner.
Shortly after retiring from commentary, family life and chasing the horizon on fishing boats, Symonds explained his drinking to 60 Minutes as a case of “too fast, too “. It also proved a neat distillation of his cricketing career – a whirlwind of shorts, catches and wickets almost too brilliant to behold by a talent who has always defied convention and sometimes belief.
Andrew Symonds is dead. But for his friends and fans, he lives. He just went fishing.