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'Scared dinkum' and dead-drunk Australians

A drunk allrounder and players scared witless by a ghost provided an unsettling start to Australia's 2005 Ashes campaign

Martin Williamson

June 15, 2013

Comments: 7 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Symonds watches from the pavilion after being left out against Bangladesh for breaking team rules, Australia v Bangladesh, NatWest Series, Cardiff, June 18, 2005
The morning after the night before... Andrew Symonds watches from the pavilion as Australia go to Bangladesh © Getty Images

Many things conspire to unsettle touring teams - dodgy food, unfamiliar weather, hostile media, homesickness - but in 2005, ahead of that summer's Ashes series, the hard-man image of the Australians was confirmed when a leading player was dropped for being drunk, and it then took a big knock when it emerged that the squad had been scared witless by a ghost at their Durham hotel.

The Australians had already started the tour badly, subsiding to a 100-run thumping by England in the one-off Twenty20 international. While that was dismissed as inconsequential by Australia's captain Ricky Ponting - "We've had two months off and there's rustiness" - he set himself up for a fall by adding there would be no excuses in the NatWest Series, which started four days later.

A few more eyebrows were raised when they lost the warm-up against Somerset (albeit a county side; a game in which Graeme Smith and Sanath Jayasuriya both scored hundreds), but Australia were still 100-1 on for their opening ODI against Bangladesh in Cardiff.

If publically the Australians said they realised the need to get back to winning ways, that did not extend to all the players. In his book Roy: Going For Broke, allrounder Andrew Symonds said he decided to go on a pub crawl in Cardiff the night before. "Ah, it's only Bangladesh," he reasoned. "A little bit of fizz won't be a worry."

Amber addicts

Australia's Greg Chappell, Doug Walters, Rod Marsh and Ian Chappell outside their Kensington hotel, May 29, 1975
Walters and Marsh: not ideal flight companions
© PA Photos
  • Andrew Symonds (again). Sent home on the eve of the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 for breaking a team curfew, it was once too often, and soon after his central contract was scrapped and he never played for his country again
  • Doug Walters and Rod Marsh. They decided to drink their way back from a tour of the Caribbean and set a tradition they religiously stuck to on all tours. This time, at 35 cans they hit trouble; they had drunk the plane out of beer. Undeterred, they continued but Walters admitted "we had to count spirits and all sorts"
  • Doug Walters and Rod Marsh (again). They disembarked from the plane bringing them to England in 1977 in a sorry state and clearly should not have attended the press conference at the hotel soon after landing. Sipping more beer, they repeatedly boomed, "Hear hear, Chappell" to their captain's remarks. To Marsh's horror, Walters final tally of 44 won the bout
  • Rod Marsh (solo). Went determinedly for Walters' record and downed beer No. 45 as his plane approached the runway. Dennis Lillee said his mate was "drunk as a monkey" and had to be dressed in his tour blazer and wheeled through the airport on a luggage trolley
  • David Boon. Denied by the man himself, according to team-mates Boon reportedly downed 52 cans of lager on the 23-hour flight from Australia to London ahead of the 1989 Ashes series. When the plane's captain made the announcement of his passenger's achievement, coach Bob Simpson went apoplectic
  • Ricky Ponting. The turning point in a career that could have been ruined by drink came when he faced the media with a black eye after a scuffle at a Sydney nightclub in 1999. Contrite and blunt, he took an A$5000 fine and a three-match ban on the chin, underwent counselling and gradually straightened himself out
  • David Warner. Already with a reputation for being hot-headed, he started the 2013 Australian tour by taken a drunken swing at England's Joe Root in the early hours of the morning in a bar. Suspended and fined, it remains to be seen if he goes the way of Symonds or Ponting.

He returned to the hotel in time for breakfast and Ponting said his suspicions were raised when he noticed Symonds was wearing the same clothes as on the night before. Michael Clarke dragged him back to his room and forced him into the shower before the squad headed off to Sophia Gardens.

Ponting recalled watching Symonds detach himself from the main body of players pre-match. "[He] leaned against a wheelie bin that was on the edge of the field," Ponting said. "As he did so he fell over."

Ponting angrily told Symonds he would not be playing and was further incensed by the reaction. "'Right,' was his response, but he said it in such a casual 'see-if-I-care' way that it wound me up even more. I was furious at a player being so disrespectful to himself, his team-mates, his opponents and his country by turning up to play a game in that state, and I blurted out, 'He can go home then!' to [Adam] Gilchrist before heading off to speak to John Buchanan."

Rather than apologise, Symonds told Buchanan: "I'm right to go. I've played like this before." That cut no ice.

While the initial explanation given to the media was that he had come down with flu, it was evident to anyone at the ground early, which included almost all the media, that as Symonds had been present at the warm-up, the real reason was not that one.

By early afternoon the Australians had to come clean, as a weary-looking Symonds nursed his sore head on the team balcony.

The day continued to go downhill for the Australians and Bangladesh romped to a five-wicket win, much to the undisguised delight of England's media and public, who after four successive home thumpings by Australia finally started to believe this could be the turning point. That sense of hope was further boosted when England beat the shell-shocked Australians in Bristol the next day.

The Australians immediately headed north for their next match at the Riverside four days later and checked in at the 700-year-old Lumley Castle hotel. If they expected an uneventful stay then there was a suspicion their backroom staff had not done their homework.

Local legend had it that the castle was haunted by a 14th-century lady of the manor who had been thrown into a well when she refused to convert to Catholicism, and in 2000, three members of the West Indies squad had checked out of the hotel early after being spooked by bumps in the night.

The day after they arrived the press were tipped off that there had been issues with some of the Australians. Contacted by the Sun, Belinda Dennett, Australia's media officer, spilt the beans perhaps more enthusiastically than was needed.

"I saw ghosts," she said. "I swear I'm telling the truth. Several of the players were uneasy, although a lot of them in the morning said they were fine but maybe they were just trying to be brave."

"I looked out of the window and saw a procession of white people walking past. It was amazing, very scary. Then I returned to bed and the blind went up again - and there was someone looking in through the window. I know I wasn't dreaming because I wrote down the message from my phone and the time. Certainly, when I started to tell my story, a lot of them didn't want to know the details."

The Sun then revealed that Shane Watson was so terrified, he had fled his own room and slept the night on Brett Lee's floor. Faced with a mocking headline - "Scare dinkum - Aussies caught by the ghoulies at 'haunted' hotel" - Dennett tried to backtrack. "I know what I thought I saw," she said. "I think perhaps the shadows and the moonlight were playing tricks on my mind."

When Australia next took to the field at the Riverside, again against England, Watson was subjected to a barrage of ridicule from spectators, some of whom turned up in Scream masks. Even out in the middle he was not safe, at one point Darren Gough sneaking up to him, doing a ghost impression.

A few days later Watson told the Sydney Morning Herald that while he had not actually seen a ghost, he had been scared by the team's bus driver into believing the local legend.

Darren Gough mocks Shane Watson who days earlier had reportedly been so terrified by a ghost at the team hotel he had fled his own room and slept the night on Brett Lee's floor, England v Australia, NatWest Series, Chester-le-Street, June 23, 2005
Scare tactics: Darren Gough mocks Shane Watson © PA Photos

"Geoff Goodwin, our bus driver, started to wind me up massively about the place being haunted," Watson said. "He said certain rooms are more haunted than others. Then I went back to my room, and it was a tiny little room, and I had to walk through a dungeon to get there, so I got a bit spooked out.

"I didn't see anything but it was a very spooky sort of place and it definitely freaked me out - things that probably aren't there but some people believe are there. I think I've grown up a bit since then."

He did admit that he had taken refuge on Lee's floor and that he "didn't sleep for four nights" while at the hotel.

By the end of June, Watson was downplaying it further. "[It was] a pretty inconsequential story," he claimed. "But I've kept the article because I really got a good laugh out of it." By the end of the summer Watson and the Australians were not laughing.

What happened next?

  • Australia won the ODI at Durham and then tied with England in the NatWest Series final at Lord's. Despite winning the first Test they lost the Ashes 2-1 to give England their first home Ashes series win in 18 years
  • Andrew Symonds continued to court trouble and his international career was finally ended when he was sent home for a breaching team curfew ahead of the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 in England
  • Watson scored 38 runs at 19.00 and took four wickets at 41.50 in the five ODIs he played in England in 2005

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by John-Price on (June 16, 2013, 21:12 GMT)

"14th-century lady of the manor who had been thrown into a well when she refused to convert to Catholicism". Not quite. England, like all of Europe was Catholic at the time so there would have been nothing to convert from. Rather, Lily Lumley is supposed to have been punished for rejecting the Catholic faith into which she was born.

Posted by   on (June 16, 2013, 12:02 GMT)

lol.......its funny....!!!

Posted by   on (June 16, 2013, 11:15 GMT)

thats,, why these guys are unable to win in 2009 ashes!!!

Posted by mikey76 on (June 15, 2013, 12:55 GMT)

The ghost of Andrew Flintoff! Woooooo!

Posted by   on (June 15, 2013, 12:06 GMT)

Feel sorry the Aussies. Ghosts waking you up during the night is the best way of getting ready for a test match or an ODI. Please can they stay there again and take pictures so we might be able to add more truth to their story.

Posted by hhillbumper on (June 15, 2013, 10:13 GMT)

ah the start of the great down turn.That was when Aussies could be scared by ghost stories

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (June 15, 2013, 8:44 GMT)

I stayed at Lumley Castle some time later and spoke to the staff about the incident. They were absolutely convinced that the ghost episode was heavily alcohol fueled. The ghost story - the Grey Lady, her portrait on display in the library - is good publicity for the hotel. Next morning the players were apparently highly disconcerted to find the castle under seige from the press who were after a story.

I know that there have been other incidents: Paul Collingwood and his wife were so terrified one night that they checked out at 2am and went home to sleep but, honestly, if the castle really were haunted, don't you think that the staff who have to spend their nights there would be the first to complain about it? :-)

Ps: My wife complained the first morning that she had been woken by footsteps outside our room on the (non-existent) landing. I remain sceptical!!

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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