February 17, 2012

The man who excited and exasperated

Whether Andrew Symonds is remembered as a victim or a villain depends on your viewpoint. The truth probably lies somewhere in between

Andrew Symonds retired this week. There must be those who do not follow the IPL out there surprised to learn he was even still playing. The Mumbai Indians were happy enough to have him last year but the Australian team had moved on from Symonds and his sagas nearly three years ago. At times they missed his all-round skills, but off the field they were better for the clean break.

Symonds was a man with great aptitude - and attitude. His talent allowed him to play 26 Tests and 198 one-day internationals for Australia but his troubles prevented him from playing far more. His legacy cannot be anything but chequered. He won plenty of games for his country but was also at the centre of more than his share of controversies. Neither aspect of his career should be forgotten.

Whether Symonds will be remembered as a villain or a victim depends on your viewpoint. His supporters will say he was hung out to dry by Cricket Australia after Monkeygate; his critics will point to his behavioural problems before that, and argue that he was the architect of his own downfall through choices he made. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.

It is true that he was not the same player after the racism row that starting bubbling in Vadodara in late 2007. Three months later, it reached boiling point in Sydney. Symonds' team-mates decided something had to be done when they thought they heard Harbhajan Singh call him a monkey in the Sydney Test in January 2008.

Harbhajan was banned for three Tests during a tour full of antagonism, and a series in which Symonds added to the tension between the two sides by admitting, after the fact, that he had got a thick edge behind when he was given not out early in his Sydney innings of 162. The Indian board pressured the ICC to replace the umpire Steve Bucknor for the next Test and the ICC obliged.

The BCCI also initially threatened to pull out of the tour if Harbhajan's suspension was not overturned. At the end of the tour, the ban was lifted on appeal. All in all Symonds, who later wrote that he had wanted to ignore the monkey chants in India and was not the one who reported Harbhajan's comment in Sydney, came out of the series looking like the bad guy.

"The behaviour of the BCCI in holding CA to ransom was appalling," Paul Marsh, the Australian Cricketers' Association chief executive, said last year. "It put CA in an extremely difficult position and they were faced with the choice of who do they upset - the BCCI or their own players?

"They chose the players and the fallout was significant. The players lost trust in CA, and I honestly believe this incident was the catalyst for Andrew Symonds' demise as an international cricketer. He was absolutely flying at the time of this incident, was in most people's minds the victim in the issue, and yet he was the person who came out of the issue looking like the guilty party. In my mind he never got over the lack of support CA gave him throughout this whole issue."

That may be true, but Cricket Australia had been generously tolerant with Symonds in the years prior. In 2005 he turned up drunk to play a one-day international against Bangladesh in Cardiff and slipped off the wheelie-bin on which he was doing his warm-up stretches. As he wrote in his book Roy: Going for Broke, he was told "in the clearest possible terms that any further misdemeanours would see me sent packing. For good."

Less than a year later, he was in a bar in Cape Town celebrating Australia's Test win when he asked a Super 12s rugby player to "take it outside". Michael Clarke, also the man who had tried to help Symonds sober up in Cardiff, dragged him away from the situation in Cape Town and prevented a brawl that might have ended Symonds' Australia career then and there.

He was good enough to be a force in all three formats. His batting was muscular and he could leave spectators breathless like few other men in world cricket, but he also had a sound defence when he chose to use it

After Monkeygate, there was a fishing trip in Darwin when he was supposed to be at a team meeting for Australia's ODI series against Bangladesh; a radio interview in which he called Brendon McCullum a "lump of shit"; and he was sent home from the World Twenty20 in England in 2009 when he was spotted drinking at a bar, after having agreed not to drink in public all tour.

During a TV interview later that year, Symonds admitted he had a problem with binge drinking. "I go out and drink hard all in one hit," he said. "Too fast, too much. Everyone's tolerance is different. I became not good to be around. I have let [team-mates] down a number of times. I had to front up and apologise to them a number of times. They were embarrassing, difficult, awkward situations."

That alcohol became such an issue for Symonds is a shame. His talent was not wasted, but nor was it fulfilled. Cricket Australia's chief executive, James Sutherland, a man who grappled with the Symonds conundrum over many years, this week reflected on Symonds' on-field talents.

"I can't think of a more exciting cricketer that's played for Australia, certainly in my time as chief executive," Sutherland said. "He was an electric player and I loved him. My kids loved watching Andrew Symonds, and when he was playing for Australia he was clearly their favourite player."

Sutherland noted Symonds' 143 not out against Pakistan in Australia's opening match of the World Cup in 2003, a brilliant innings, for he had come to the crease at 86 for 4. It gave Australia the perfect start in what would become a perfect tournament, and helped them understand that they could still be a force despite losing Shane Warne to a drug ban.

Likewise, his 156 in the Melbourne Ashes Test of 2006-07 rescued Australia from a shaky position. He was good enough to be a force in all three formats. His batting was muscular and he could leave spectators breathless like few other men in world cricket, but he also had a sound defence when he chose to use it. His medium pace and offspin appeared innocuous, but they bought him 165 wickets for his country.

In the field there were few more electrifying. Off the field there were few more exasperating. Now there is no more "on the field" for Symonds. He will look back at his career, as others will, with mixed feelings. Now fatherhood beckons. There could also be a commentary career ahead of him, for his work on Australian TV during the Big Bash League was well received.

Whatever his future holds, he can now move into a new phase of his life and start afresh. And as the Australian team has discovered over the past year, there's nothing quite like a clean slate.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Grant on February 20, 2012, 20:38 GMT

    Dubious, I have no problem with him playing for Australia, and your argument has SOME validity if you limit it to KP and, especially, Trott. Hoever it is routinely extended to the likes of Strauss, Prior and others who have as good or better claims the Symonds. I was't "getting off" on anything, just making the point it is more complex than the England basgers suggest

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2012, 2:02 GMT

    A great player for Australia, people didn't realise his potential early on in his one day career and used him more as a lower order big hitter. But he became a brilliant middle order one day player, one of Australia's best players of spin and was could be pretty devasting against the quicks too. His bowling was innocuous but got him handy wickets (he was always a batsman that bowled never an allrounder). And electric in the field to top it up. Don't think I ever saw Symonds miss the stumps once. He also managed to prove his defensive technique was good enough for test cricket but unfortunately that got cut short due to the whole racism row and him going off the tracks. Loved watching him bat though, you always knew he was going to get on with it and not mess around.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2012, 1:51 GMT

    I liked Roy. He was just a normal bloke who happened to play cricket very well. The modern, professional, media-savvy cricketer didn't fit him very well. But you can't knock him for liking a drink and for occassionally getting into a scrape or a bit of trouble. If you did you'd be knocking half of Australia. I hope you have a great cricketing 'after-life', mate.

  • Zaccharia on February 19, 2012, 22:17 GMT

    I don't know where these English supporters get of calling Australia his 'adopted country'. It's not where you're born, it's where you're raised. Ask Symonds if he's an Australian. We query the make up of the English team because the likes of Pieterson and Trott were both born and raised in South Africa. Read Ed Cowan's book, there's a part where Cowan gives Pieterson a ribbing about it all and Pieterson says, "I'm South African, not English, I just work for them."

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2012, 16:21 GMT

    he is another example of the fact that international sport is not just about sporting skill but it goes far beyond that.The one who fails to manage it perishes. Nevertheless he was a good player

  • Senthil on February 19, 2012, 14:41 GMT

    No matter what, I will miss Symo. He made his choices and he had to live with them, but when he glowed on the cricket field, he glowed bright, and that is all I can ask of anyone! Go Symo! There is more to life than cricket and I'm sure you will have a wonderful journey onwards! It's all good, Mate!

  • Raja on February 19, 2012, 11:26 GMT

    I remember his innings in IPL final.. He scored quick runs to help deccan chargers win the cup :)

  • Grant on February 19, 2012, 11:26 GMT

    Of course Symonds was an Australian example that nationality isn't as simple as where you were born which was always handy when his adopted countrymen complained about the make of the England team

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2012, 3:01 GMT

    @Meety, you don't know what you are talking about. All the players were fed up with Symonds and it befell Clarke as the stand-in captain to do the hard job - give him the flick. Clarke didn't cause Symonds to miss the team meeting; he was just the one to administer the discpline and for that, he earned a respect within the squad that has lasted to this day.

  • Vikas on February 19, 2012, 2:09 GMT

    Roy still would have been playing cricket if not for CA outcasting him.He missed the international level training that is synonymous with international cricket teams.Last year his performance in IPL wasn't top notch.So there finally had to come the obvious retirement.

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