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August 30, 2008
Andrew Symonds has a month to prove his commitment to the Australia team ahead of the India tour after he was banished from the squad in Darwin for going fishing and missing a team meeting. The side's leadership group sent Symonds home to Brisbane following the incident, which was the latest in a string of misdemeanours.
Symonds is taking no part in the three-match ODI series against Bangladesh but the stand-in captain Michael Clarke said that provided Symonds could "get his head right" there was no reason he would not be available for the India trip. Clarke said Symonds, one of his best friends within the squad, was usually terrific to have around because of his laid-back nature.
"That's why we love him," Clarke said. "That's why we want him as part of our squad, because he is such a great guy. But like I say, we believe as a leadership group and a team that he is not fulfilling commitments 100% and right now he needs some time away from the game."
Symonds' passion for fishing is well documented and he took to the water early on Friday, the day before the first Bangladesh match. When a compulsory team meeting was called later that morning, Symonds did not know about it as he was already wetting a line. An optional training session was later held at the Marrara Cricket Ground, which he had already decided not to attend.
The coach Tim Nielsen confirmed that Symonds was fishing and said his lack of preparedness left the group worried about how Symonds was mentally coping with his cricketing demands. "He wasn't organised enough to understand what his commitments to the group were that day and therefore he missed it," Nielsen said. "That to me raises concerns about how and what sort of space he's in in his own mind."
The scenario ahead of a Bangladesh game is worryingly familiar for Symonds, who in 2005 was told not to play in Cardiff after turning up to the ground under the influence of alcohol. Australia went on to lose that match, the only time they have been defeated by Bangladesh in an ODI. Nielsen said drinking was not "a standout part of the decision-making" this time.
Cricket Australia stressed that the incident itself was a minor one, although he has been told in the past that his contract would be revoked if he became involved in another serious incident. Their concern this time was with his ongoing attitude and the poor example he was setting for a young squad already missing Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Brett Lee. His series of transgressions include failing to board the team bus in the Caribbean in June after sleeping in.
In the past year Symonds has also been outspoken about not touring Pakistan and was involved in the race row with India's Harbhajan Singh at the SCG. In the aftermath of the Sydney event Cricket Australia cut one of his columns for a Sunday newspaper and Symonds was also disappointed the players did not receive more backing from their employers.
Following the Australian season he became the highest overseas signing with the Indian Premier League, joining the Deccan Chargers for US$1.35m. The Australian international players were desperate to appear in the tournament, despite previously complaining about overload, and had to deal with more of Cricket Australia's administrative concerns.
Symonds was told of the decision on Friday night in a meeting with the leadership group, which included Clarke, the coach Tim Nielsen, the team manager Steve Bernard, and Ponting via a teleconference. "Andrew was obviously very disappointed but he accepts our decision," Clarke said. "I know Andrew pretty well - I hope he goes away from this and gets himself right and gets himself back into our team."
Symonds flew out for Brisbane on Saturday afternoon and the ball is now in his court as to how he will respond to the team's concerns. A replacement player will be sent to Darwin to boost the squad, which had only 11 fully fit players available for the first match.
Symonds' most famous fishing incident came in 1999 when he went out with Matthew Hayden and their boat sank off Queensland's North Stradbroke Island. The men were forced to swim for more than an hour through Moreton Bay in areas well-known for sharks. On that occasion everyone was relieved the pair returned in good health.
Additional reporting by Peter English
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