End of the road for Andrew Symonds?

There have been so many last chances, so many betrayals of trust that Andrew Symonds’ Australia career is now surely at an end. What Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland, called “the last straw” really will be that, writes David Hopps.

Andrew Symonds loves a drink and he loves his rugby league, so when his beloved Queensland Maroons beat New South Wales Blues in the first best-of-three State of Origin finals, it was only natural that he would want to raise a glass or two in their honour.

Hell, watching the game on TV in England on the morning of June 3 was not the same as actually being there, but he was on a day off. Some things just had to be celebrated, especially as a couple of team-mates were doing the same thing.

He wasn’t about to overdo it or anything like that. All the Australian coaches ever harked on about these days was “exercise your skills”. When it came to drinking he knew a thing or two. It was time for those skills to be allowed a light workout.

As an entry in Symonds’ lengthy hall of shame, this latest “alcohol-related issue” would not normally warrant a place in his top 100, were it not for the fact that, unlike his team-mates, he was on a final warning. And that code of conduct, agreed between Symonds, Cricket Australia and his psychologist, had strict limits on drinking, certainly daytime drinking. He broke the deal so he has been sent home. Cricket Australia had no other choice. It is as simple as that.

There have been so many last chances, so many betrayals of trust that his Australia career is now surely at an end. What Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland, called “the last straw” really will be that. He may even jump before he is pushed. You have seen your last of Andrew Symonds in an Australia shirt.

If I had realised, I would have taken more notice of a briefly roistering innings against Bangladesh in a World Cup warm-up at Trent Bridge on June 1. Instead, I only remember watching him lumber in to bowl and thinking that he was looking older.

Do not presume that from now on he will automatically get rich on an annual diet of the Indian Premier League, maybe even on England’s P20, and any other Twenty20 tournament that may come along. If Queensland also calls time on an increasingly troubled career then the structures that have brought some discipline to his sporting life will disappear.

As a professional cricketer (hopefully not as a man, although the danger is definitely there), he will quickly go to seed. He will do well to hang on for one more year of IPL. What will be left will be the booze, the fishing, the sport on the telly, the most loyal of his mates (many hangers-on will vanish) and a few old tales about how he has blasted a cricket ball as hard as just about anybody who has ever lived. There are worse lives.

One of the great bar-room cricketers will no doubt gain some support down the pub. There will be talk of how he didn’t do much wrong, how cricket has become po-faced, how Twenty20 started out as a bit of fun, and how one of the men most likely to provide that entertainment has been unfairly sent home. There will be tales of Ian Botham’s drinking prowess (a talent that has not notably waned), of how Fred Trueman’s exercise routine before a match consisted of marking out his run, and how this fitness-obsessed lot couldn’t hold a candle to any of them.

But bar-room philosophy cannot be the approach of an Australian cricket team striving to achieve a notable hat-trick of one-day titles, by adding World Twenty20 to the World Cup and the Champions Trophy, both played over 50 overs. Symonds had allegedly been grumpy at his diminished social life on tour, and was in danger of becoming disenchanted at best, a disruptive influence on the next generation at worst.

He has left us with memories of some fearsome hitting. It was only recently that Symonds’ former Australia team-mate Adam Gilchrist lavished praise upon him as they both celebrated Deccan Chargers’ victory in the IPL final. “He is a great team man,” said Gilchrist. “He creates good spirit in the team. He’s just a great personality and a wonderful talent on a cricket field.”

It was also fun to be on an England tour of Australia when for a bit of a giggle he was invariably reminded of his Birmingham birthplace, so that we could see his eyes narrow beneath the heaps of sun cream as he would scowl: “I’m no Pom mate, I’m a fair-dinkum Aussie.”

But the strongest memories will surround his off-the-field antics. It is hard to know where to start: turning up drunk for Australia’s one-day international against Bangladesh in Cardiff four years ago; several bar-room fracas; skipping training to go fishing; or a slurring commercial radio interview earlier this year in which he called New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum “a piece of shit”.

Symonds’ psychologist, Deirdre Anderson, who helped the great Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe cope with retirement, had promised Cricket Australia that they could anticipate more outstanding performances from “a good cricketer and a good man”. She had added: “Alcohol may be a part of the problem but it’s a case of assessing the person you are and the person you would like to be.”

“Roy”, perhaps unwittingly, has made his mind up. He is a man of great emotional highs and lows, and alcohol will play a part in that. In his low moments, he doesn’t want to do the hard yards anymore. Perhaps the best that can be hoped is that one day soon he escapes to the wilds of North Queensland and the beers flow contentedly and peacefully for many years to come.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009