Robert Ogilvie was in the stands at the Gaba drinking with his mates. Australia had been reduced to 38 for 3 chasing 259 after having lost the first Commonwealth final to India, a couple of days earlier.
Back in Meerut, Praveen Kumar’s mom is sitting on the floor, right in front of the prayer room, with her eyes glued to the little cabinet dedicated to the deity, her left year listening to the Hindi commentary and her right ear paying just enough attention to the Aaj Tak reporter who had been camping in their house for a day now.
Back in Brisbane, Praveen Kumar has been landing the ball in good areas only. Even with Mathew Hayden and Andrew Symonds at the crease, the hosts could hardly gather any momentum.
Momentum was plenty on offer in the north stand where Ogilvie had almost convinced his mates that he was just about to go International with his recent practice of Naturism. A few months back, Ogilvie had stripped down naked at a party and had a good laugh about it.
But this was no birthday party, this was the Brisbane Cricket Ground and the sense of the occasion just lifted his already high spirits as he took his shirt off and got rid of the trousers and there he was, free.
The relief in his system can be equated to a toddler who takes off his school uniform the very second he enters the house after summer school.
Jumping down from his seat, Ogilvie landed on his feet, meters away from the boundary line.
At this point, all he was wearing was a huge grin on his face and a wrist band and nobody even wanted to paint him like one of Jack’s French girls. He dodged the security guards, sprinted away from the police, and raced towards the 30-yard circle.
Having outrun the ground staff, Ogilvie had accomplished his goal and at that moment, he deviated from his natural course and ran towards the non-striker.
His eyes met the eyes of Andrew Symonds and before he could even think, feel, move, breathe or see anything more, he was flat on the ground as if he had been hit by an iceberg. Symonds’ shoulder charge to the streaker will go down as one of the most iconic photographs in the game.
An hour later when Ogilvie was in his trousers again, Symonds was hit plumb in front by Harbhajan, in the same over after Hayden had run himself out. Australia came close but the lost game by nine runs. However, this was not the first instance when an Australian cricketer had taken down a streaker.
Terry Alderman tackled one in Perth back in the 1980s and Greg Chapell smashed a naked man with the bottom of his bat in Auckland’s Eden park in 1976.
But that shoulder charge was so technically correct that it even impressed the professional rugby players of Brisbane Broncs with whom Symonds had trained in his pre-season fitness schedule. Just before the 2003 World Cup, after having been in and out of the Queensland and Australian side for more than 5 years, he was seriously considering dawning the Broncs Jersey.
Wayne Bennet, the Broncs coach had a word with him and told him, “Look, if you’re fair dinkum about this, come back to me at the end of the season and we’ll work out what your next best step is to try and ignite a football career if that’s what you want to do.”
Ricky Ponting, the man who mattered the most in that era where Australia took white-ball cricket more seriously than any other team, gave the national selectors and more importantly the public a clear word of support in favor of Andrew Symonds being present in the World Cup squad. Shane Watson was injured and so was Michael Bevan. Darren Lehman was still suspended and Symonds was fit, hungry, and ready to prove his captain right.
Sitting in Karachi, jumping in joy was Mustafa who had just watched Waqar Younis dismiss James Maher with the score reading 86 for 4 in Australia’s opening game of the tournament. Maher was the third batsman that Pointing from the non-striker’s end had watched returning to the pavilion after Hayden and Martin were dismissed on consecutive deliveries.
Then Mustafa noticed this imposing figure striding out in the middle with dreadlocks and lip zinc. Symonds got to 25 and soon watched his skipper fall. He hit four boundaries in the same Shahid Afridi-over in which he reached his maiden ODI ton.
What he did after he got to that mark sent Mustafa and Pakistan into a state of numb. 49 came from his final 36 deliveries and from a state of an emergency to a state of euphoria had surrounded that Australian dressing room. Champion sides rarely need lifting but once they are lifted they stay on top and so did Pointing’s side who won yet another 50-over title.
Since the white ball renaissance, brute strikers have been a common theme in every champion side. They are powerful, aggressive; boundary hitters, and risk-takers.
There are very few who strike fear in the heart of the inner circle fielders. The best of ring fielders don’t close in when the bull from Queensland is on the move. He had variations of the same shot, depending on how hard he hit with that downswing. The easiest way to explain it is to look at those muscular woodchoppers from Australia and New Zealand giving it all to the static log while trying to chop it through the center.
That ridiculous amount of force in his bat swing used with great game awareness made bowlers, captains, even fielders afraid of getting hit, quite literally.
Symonds the bowler was like a Sunday buffet. Anything and everything you want, he served it. The gentle run-up with his non-bowling arm guiding his balance and a clean load up usually made him accurate. He bowled off-breaks that had little or no turn and seam up deliveries with little or no seam movement. When you consider Australia’s bowling attack, Symonds shouldn’t have been be bowling at all. And yet he had 133 ODI scalps in 198 games and 24 Test match wickets from 26 games. He had Adam Gilchrist up to the stumps with a ring of fielders closing in and he was an excellent fielder of his own bowling.
To be honest, he was perhaps the best attacking fielder the world has ever seen. If you have headphones, then lay them flat on the table. Now put a matchbox right at the centre. If your matchbox is yellow then it is the most minimalistic yet accurate depiction of Symonds’ fielding arc.
The area enclosed by your giant headphones is roughly the space he owned on the field. The massive hotspots made out of your headphone cushions are the areas from where he inflicted the most run-outs, either by charging at the ball or by simply using his horizontal reach.
Twisting, turning, diving, and swiveling and hitting the stumps without even him needing to get up. Symonds could hit the stumps on the full, after one bounce, with precise underarm flicks and even with long-range speed and accuracy of Olympic Javelin champion, Keshron Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago.
Born to British-West Indian parents in Birmingham, Andrew Symonds was gifted with the seed of Caribbean athleticism. Six weeks to the day he was born, he was adopted and subsequently moved to Australia where he fell in the love with the wild.
Never far from the ocean, in the coastal city of Townsville, in northeastern Queensland he was always closer to the forest and living in the lap of nature next to koalas, wombats and crocodiles, was the place he called home.
When you have been in the wild, lost in the woods, nothing else bothers you. Not even if it is the Boxing Day Test, in Ashes cricket, with just 26 and 2 in your previous outing, trying to fill the massive void that Damien Martyn has left in the middle order.
It doesn’t matter if your side is tottering at 86 for 5 with English bowlers behaving exactly how they do when they are offered swing in the air and seam off the pitch. It does not concern you when Kevin Pietersen is screaming from the gully, “C’mon lads! We know that guy (Symonds) is in the team because of his fielding!”
At the other end was his best mate, Hayden, who had once convinced him to swim for three hours in shark-infested waters after their fishing boat had sunk.
Andrew Symonds was exhausted by the time he swam back to the island but not once he had doubted his mate, nor did the sharks scare him.
A monumental six down the ground followed by a huge cry of relief, with his right arm raised to the heavens, his left arm wrapped around his best mate, as he welcomed his maiden Test century.
In Sydney, the next year, in the middle of one of the most bizarre Test matches, ‘Monkey-gate’ happened. The only monkey business most people remember from that week was the standard of umpiring.
Indian cricket team’s warning to forfeit the remaining tour crushed Symond’s desperate need for justice. With television rights, ticket revenues, and the surplus dollars at stake, Cricket Australia did what they had to. They just moved on. But Symonds couldn’t. For a long time, the episode didn’t break him but it was enough to make him lose all the faith in the system. This was a man who did silly things to make his mates laugh, extraordinary things to make his team win, and there at that moment when he needed some support, it was non-existent.
Cricket Australia eventually diagnosed him as a ‘Binge drinker’ – someone who drinks in excess. While he should have been in a team meeting, he went fishing in Darwin. On his last tour, he had a different contract than the rest of the team which prohibited him from having a drink on that tour.
Symonds and his friends went to the pub to watch a Rugby League game and he had a few beers. This is was third such violation and he was sent home on the eve of the 2009 World Twenty20, and his central contract was soon canceled.
Long after hanging his boots, even now, when he drives around in a robust Toyota LandCruiser ute, he listens to the match commentary. Thinks about the time he created magic on the field. But not for long, usually the commentary and his car stops at the harbor, parked for hours. In his check shirt, yellow shorts, he drives his boat deep into the water and now his fishing rod works like a charm.