Remembering Andrew Symonds: Unconventional by approach, yet supremely talented
"I'd rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not," thus spoke Andrew Symonds once, upon being asked about his audacious decision of turning up for a Cricket Australia meeting, barefoot and in a cowboy hat. He was heavily reprimanded by the cricketing administration of his country as if that would bring about a change in his mentality. Incidentally, the above sentence that he spoke, would easily sum up the entirety of his career. With an indelible aura around himself, he had always had a distinct way of doing things.
Who can forget Andrew Symonds? Brutally aggressive with the bat, powerfully agile on the field and deceptively dangerous with the ball, Andrew Symonds was the ultimate limited-overs package. Although his career didn't span for a really long time, he did enough during his stay in international cricket to make his presence felt.
A pure match-winner for Australia in ODIs, he even shrugged off the limited-overs specialist tag to make a surprise entry into Test cricket where again, he shone brightly with quite a few impressive performances. For a man so gifted, only his own undoing could have derailed things and that's precisely what ended Symonds' career well before it actually should. As Symonds celebrates his 43rd birthday today, we're taking a look into the flawed genius of one of Australia's finest.
An Englishman by origin, Symonds' skills made a deafening sound when he smashed a first-class record of 16 sixes in an innings en route to a flamboyant 254 not out, making people sit up and take notice. This was way back in 1995. Born originally in Birmingham to a West Indian and European parents, Symonds' foster parents took him to Australia.
He had the opportunity to represent England or even West Indies if he wished to but was adamant at representing Australia, although he continued to play County cricket along with Sheffield Shield.
The limited-overs debut happened in 1998, but he appeared to be a bits-and-pieces entity on the international stage. Of course, he was more talented than that as shown by his domestic performances but somehow, Symonds couldn't put it together on the international stage.
Over the next few years, Symonds remained in and out of the side due to these reasons until the turning point finally arrived - the 2003 World Cup. His selection was heavily debated not only due to the sheer inconsistency he had displayed till that point but also because many believed that the more experienced Steve Waugh (who had been dropped a year ago from the side) would be the ideal one.
However, skipper Ricky Ponting stuck to his instincts and Symonds didn't disappoint his captain either, as he went on to have a superb tournament with several invaluable knocks. It was the big break that he badly needed and it's fair to say that he had established a firm footing in international cricket. A sensation on the field, Ricky Ponting once declared Symonds the greatest fielder he had ever seen.
Symonds' limited-overs success saw him earn a Test debut in 2004 but it was a bumpy start of sorts of him. The first couple of years were tough for him but he gradually got better due to solid support from the team management who were looking for a genuine all-rounder. Symonds wasn't exactly that, at least for Test cricket, but had a good few years at that level mostly as a batsman who could provide vital breakthroughs and take stunning catches in the outfield, as he showed how cricket was a game that could be played outside of the 22 yards as well.
However, disciplinary issues continued to haunt him once in a while, including on-field altercations, the biggest of them being the infamous Sydney spat with Harbhajan Singh. Attitude problems meant that Symonds was sent off from the team quite a few times, the last of them being the 2009 World T20 due to alcohol problems. The result was the cancellation of his national contract.
In the end, it was not the alcohol that got to Symonds, but the pressure. It was the training regime, the media demands, sponsorship appearances and interview requests. And, more than anything else, it was the special contract he signed with Cricket Australia forbidding him from having a drink.
"The only real regret I have in cricket? signing that contract," Symonds once said in an interview. "If I had my time again I would have said, 'You know what? There is no way I'm signing that.' No one else had to do it. And let's be honest, under that sort of scrutiny I was always going to bust at some stage."
"Losing my contract didn't hurt me, because of what playing for Australia had become. I wasn't having fun anymore. I wasn't enjoying it. I felt like I was in a cage. Always under the microscope. Once I had got home from England, and everything had settled down, it was a relief." When it is a dream to play for the national side for all others, Symonds had grown to hate it.
The emergence of young talents like Glenn Maxwell and Steven Smith's eventual metamorphosis from a leg-spinner to a hardcore batsman who can spin the ball, and Symonds' own considerable decline in commitment and attitude meant that the all-rounder's career was all but done. He continued to ply his trade in the newly-born Indian Premier League that was formed in 2008 and was among the costliest players of the first season. Symonds was picked by Deccan Chargers - a star-studded unit that finished at the bottom of the table but went on to win the title in 2009 with Symonds being one of the key performers in the side led by Adam Gilchrist. The rampaging T20 format suited Symonds' style to the dot.
The burly all-rounder enjoyed himself thoroughly in a few other leagues as well before quitting from all forms of cricket in 2012. A thorough entertainer with abundant talent, Symonds definitely could have scaled greater heights if he had curbed his flaws which eventually did him in.