It was a warm autumn night in Townsville, Queensland when a random car driven by a not so random human being rolled off Hervey Range Road and thrust its driver to the land of no returns. The crash reverberated a cacophony that brought watchers and passersby to the spot. Little did they know who they were about to discover inside. Littler did the cricketing world know the shockwaves it was about to receive.
Andrew ‘Roy’ Symonds was a coadunation of larger than life presence and down to earth persona that spellbound fans and rivals alike irrespective of what side of the line he stood on.
A naturally gifted athlete in every sense of the word, Symonds’s knack for catching attention like Albus Dumbledore’s deluminator was inherent. Be it with his on field masterstrokes or his off field antics – entertainment was in his very fabric of existence.
Born into an Anglo-Caribbean home in the industrial city of Birmingham in 1975, Andrew Symonds was adopted by Ken and Barbara Symonds at a mere age of twelve weeks. The family moved to Australia soon after. His father drove him 270 kilometres twice a week to play for the Townsville Wanderers, a club whose pastoral home ground was just 50 kilometers from the spot where Symonds’s car rolled.
Ironic or fitting?
Symonds’s first spark of brilliance came in the summer of 1994/95 when he smashed an unbeaten 108 off just 127 balls in a tour game against England. The moment he brought on his hundred with a rollicking backfoot punch off Angus Fraser, the English cricket administrators had their eyebrows raised.
But Roy was just getting started. In the following English summer, he amassed a scathing 1438 runs in county cricket with a high of 254* against Glamorgan. The innings saw the red cherry sail over the boundary for a record 16 times – an exhibit that had ‘from the future’ written all over it.
The English cricketing hierarchy in the meantime went from raised eyebrows to licking their lips at the prospect of luring the English born prodigy into playing for the three lions, only to be met with a stone cold “No” from the Queenslander who openly pledged his allegiance to Australia.
But breaking into the then Aussie side was no child’s play as he had to churn out good performances for another three years. He got his first gig at international cricket in a dead rubber ODI against Pakistan in 1998 but failed to make the most of it. Inconsistent performances coupled with disciplinary issues kept him from cementing his place in the Australian side. Many even dubbed him a domestic bully and not made for international cricket. But his skipper Ricky Ponting had unerred faith in his prowess which earned Symonds a questionable place in the 2003 world cup squad.
They say “cometh the moment; cometh the man” and the world cup was Andrew Symonds’s big moment. With Australia in deep waters teetering at 4/86 in the opening fixture against Pakistan, Roy would come in to the crease and make the great save with a swashbuckling 143* off 125 taking the pace trio of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar to the gallows. The knock, a concoction of ethereal timing and power hitting of graceful brutality helped Australia post a formidable total of 310 and clinch their first win of the juggernaut world cup run that saw them win two back to back world cups without losing a single game.
From this point onwards Symonds never had to look back. In his next 144 games till retirement, he would average an enviable 45.06 with twenty eight fifties and six hundreds to his name. He drew curtains on his limited overs career with an average just shy of forty from 198 stints but with a futuristic strike rate of ninety two. But his statistics in world tournaments tell a whole different story; a story of him pushing his gear to the next level. Across two World Cups that he played, he scored 515 runs in thirteen innings at an average of 103.
If the sample size looks too small, add the 2 champions trophies and his average still stand at a healthy 76 with a strike rate of 95.
To add more ballistics to his already exquisite repertoire, Symonds was a handy bowler, propelling part time offies as well as seams – whichever his team needed. Neither of the two were adherent to their respective textbooks but they could still get the job done as evidenced by his 133 scalps in green and golds. Add to that his sheer athleticism on the field and a rocket of an arm. He was literally a predator in the field, patiently anticipating the direction of the ball and batsmen’s shot and sprinting towards it to either catch it or hit the stumps from seemingly impossible angles.
Mind you his aptitudes were not limited to white ball cricket like the cliché modern day cricketers white ball cricketers. He was just as au fait in red ball cricket as well. He finished with a test batting average of 40.6 and a bowling average just north of 37 but had his chances dried out given how rich in stocks Australian cricket was during that time.
But what Symonds was inept was being a full blown subservient to the stringent disciplines modern day cricket is built on. He was of the playing-sport-for-the-mere-sake-of-enjoyment school of thought. He exuded the impression that cricket took second place to living that life of fishing, hunting and beers.
His unwavering commitment to the teams he represented and his undying loyalty to his mates and his country soon metamorphosed him into a talisman for so many of his teammates and fans alike.
Lastly it was Andrew Symonds’s uncomplicated observations and naivety of actions amalgamated with his perspicacity for cricket which was just as true as his spirit that made him the cult hero he was. And just like his myriads of cricket innings, he is gone too soon. Only this time, it’s much much worse.