It was a Sunday dawn marinated in grief for the cricketing world and the news from Down Under was grim. Former Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds had succumbed to fatal injuries suffered in a car accident near Townsville in Queensland on Saturday night. Just 46, Symonds leaves behind a stunned Australian sporting firmament yet to come to terms with the earlier demise of Rodney Marsh and Shane Warne.
With an imposing figure and a larger-than-life outlook, Symonds was much more than numbers in statistical books. He was an impact-player through his towering shots, electric fielding and more than handy bowling, be it off-spin or medium-pace. The two-time World Cup winner (2003 and 2007) had the game for limited-overs’ jousts and with dreadlocks, zinc cream on his face and the odd sharp word with rivals, he always drew in the cameras.
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Having played 26 Tests and 14 Twenty20Is, the ‘Symonds Effect’ was felt more in his 198 ODIs that yielded 5088 runs at a strike-rate of 92.44 and an average of 39.75. Additionally he grabbed 133 ODI wickets and at one point he was indispensable to the Aussie squad in yellow. Later when his career declined, he found a competitor for his slot in Shane Watson.
In an increasingly professional sporting realm, Symonds had the amateur spirit. He preferred his fishing and hiking trips which at times affected his availability to play for his country. The odd team-meeting was skipped and he paid a price. Years later he sought companionship with alcohol through nights laced with self-pity and anger, a fall-out of the scars he carried from the Monkeygate controversy during the Sydney Test against India in 2008.
The unsavoury episode in which he accused Harbhajan Singh of using a racist term ‘monkey’ against him, snowballed into a rift between the cricket boards of India and Australia. An enquiry proved inconclusive with Harbhajan insisting on his innocence and seeking refuge in a Hindi expletive that mimics the word monkey while skipper Anil Kumble stood by his off-spinner. Symonds felt let down by Cricket Australia and even if a conciliatory photo-opportunity later cropped up as he rubbed shoulders with his then Mumbai Indians’ team-mate Harbhajan, the Aussie was never the same force of nature, which he was in his prime.
Symonds last played for Australia in 2009 before slipping into the shadows but in his pomp, he pulled in the crowds, inspired children to copy his swag and was always an electric personality. He leaves behind memories of a splendid player and a fragile human being in equal measure. Cricket has lost a unique character in these times of stylised beards, dull words and burnouts.