Farewell Andrew Symonds – a controversial cricketer

By Kersi Meher-Homji

I still can’t believe that famous Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds is not alive. He died after a car crash near Townsville, Queensland two days ago. He was only 46.

Nicknamed Roy, he was an aggressive right-hand batsman and bowled off-spin or medium pace. He was an exceptional fielder with Ricky Ponting rating him as the best fielder he had seen, comments Cricinfo.

“He batted like a kid playing two age-levels down, bullying bowling attacks with a unique mix of power and grace” said ABC’s Dean Bilton.

Andrew ‘Roy’ Symonds was born on 9th June 1975 in Birmingham, England. He was adopted when a toddler. His new family soon moved to North Queensland.

He took up cricket at a young age and shone out in all formats. In 26 Tests he scored 1462 runs at an average of 40.61 hitting two centuries, highest score 162 not out, took 24 wickets at 37.33 and 22 catches. In 198 One Day Internationals he hit 5088 runs at 39.75 smashing six centuries, highest score 156, took 133 wickets at 37.25 (best 5 for 18) and 82 catches. In Twenty 20 Internationals he had an impressive strike rate of 169.

He played first-class matches for Queensland, for English counties Kent, Surrey and Lancashire and was a hit with the crowd when playing IPL matches in India for Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians.

He is remembered for the monkeygate controversy involving Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh in the January 2008 Sydney Test.

Each day of the above controversial Test provided dramas galore. Wrote Australian writer Greg Baum in Wisden 2008, “Bollyline” [Bollywood version of Bodyline series involving Don Bradman and English fast bowler Harold Larwood in 1932-33] in Sydney will go down in history as a kind of cricketing six day war.”

There were other sub-plots in this dramatic Test; the poor umpiring of Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, Australia captain Ponting’s frequent appealing and the noted cricket writer Peter Roebuck calling for his sacking, the Indian captain Anil Kumble saying at the Press Conference at the end of the match: “Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game.”

The main issue behind the drama: Was Harbhajan calling Symonds a “monkey” or “teri maki” (a swear word in Hindi language), a racist comment or a sledge? To understand the implication of what is referred to as Monkeygate, we have to go back a few months when Australia toured India for a series of seven one-day internationals in 2007. Symonds was the Man of the Series on that tour, scoring most runs (365) and topping the averages (73) with a strike rate of 110. “His fielding was boisterously electric’, wrote Anand Vasu in Wisden 2008. Comparisons with master West Indies batsman Viv Richards were made.

That series is also remembered for shameful behaviour by sections of the Indian crowds during matches in Vadodra and in Mumbai. The dreadlocked Symonds was subjected to monkey chants from sections of the crowd at these two venues. The villains were caught on camera in Mumbai and thrown out.

Symonds who had entertained the crowds with his spectacular batting and fielding must have felt devastated at this shocking treatment. He was the only dark cricketer among white Australians and it appeared racial abuse. If Symonds felt insulted he did not show it till the Sydney Test a few months later. This is how the drama unfolded.

On the third day of the Sydney Test, January 4, 2008, India replying to Australia’s 463, was 7 wickets down for a score of over 400. Harbhajan was engaged in a century partnership with maestro Sachin Tendulkar. Harbhajan was heard by Australian fielders as calling Symonds a monkey. Later Harbhajan said that he had said “teri maki”, a swear word in Indian language which sounded like monkey.

After days of debate Judge Hansen decided that the charge of racism was not proven. Instead Harbhajan was found guilty on the lesser offence of “abuse and insult not amounting to racism” and was fined half his match fee. This angered the Australian team, especially Symonds who felt that Australian Cricket Board had let him down.

The contentious Test series continued with an energised India winning the next Test at Perth, their first ever victory on this venue, drawing the final Test in Adelaide and winning the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank one-day series, beating Australia in the Final.

Despite his rancour with the Indian team in the Bollyline saga, Symonds was the most popular overseas cricketer at the IPL auction in 2008 where he was auctioned for US$1.3 million, second only to India’s MS Dhoni. When playing IPL matches a few years later, Symonds and Harbhajan shook hands in friendship. Symonds retired from all cricket in February 2012.

Later Symonds became a popular TV commentator. He was an avid fisherman but unfortunately very fond of alcohol.

Symonds made a cameo in the 2011 Bollywood movie Patiala House. The same year he was a contestant on the Indian reality series Bigg Boss. Pooja Mishra, who had already been eliminated from the show, returned to act as a translator for Symonds.

Andrew was inducted in Australian Hall of Fame and was an important member of two World Cup winning Australian cricket teams.

“Roy (Symonds) was never perfect, that was for sure, and he never said that he was,” former Australian coach John Buchanan told ABC radio on Monday. “But the one thing about Roy – and one of the things that I think endeared him to most people – was that even though he made a mistake, he would openly admit that and try to rectify that and take full accountability for that.”

He is survived by wife Laura, daughter Chloe aged 9 and son Billy aged 7. Laura said “He was such a big person and there is just so much of him in his kids,” she told News Corp. “He was the most laid-back person. Nothing stressed him out.”

He inspired Rupert McCall to write a poem on him His legend will live on. Hopefully it will.

Symonds and sixes

It seems that Andrew Symonds and sixes were synonymous. He endeared himself to spectators by hitting tall sixes. His cap number was 63, his house number was 66 and sadly he died aged 46.

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