From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 01, 2012

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CRICKET / FOCUS/ANDREW SYMONDS

A wayward cricket wayfarer

Whether Andrew Symonds — who announced his retirement from professional cricket recently — was a victim of typecasting is open to conjecture. What is, however, beyond dispute is his talent raged like an all-consuming inferno before being extinguished prematurely, writes Arun Venugopal.

K.R. DEEPAK

Stereotyping has forever been inalienable to human behaviour. Man's tendency to take the ‘easy way out' has often led to erroneous oversimplification of matters. And hence things are conveniently viewed — and consequently projected — in ‘black' and ‘white'; the ‘grey areas' are barely explored. Whether Andrew Symonds —– who announced his retirement from professional cricket recently — was a victim of such typecasting, like many others, is open to conjecture.

What is, however, beyond dispute is his talent raged like an all-consuming inferno before being extinguished prematurely. Symonds was always designed to be a larrikin; the ‘normal stuff' wasn't his cuppa. As a youngster, he was a compulsive slugger who shred opponents with sixers. Not that it changed when he grew up. Symonds' approach to the game — the brawny hitting; unwavering, prickly bowling; and enthusiastic fielding — mirrored his free-spirited being. It's something that, at times, frustrated even his backers. “I used to hate watching him bat,” his old coach Toot Byron once said. “He wasn't in control of his shot-selection ... he'd get 24 off an over and then go [get] out on the last ball of that over.”

LOVE FOR THE BOTTLE

What would have infuriated them more was the way ‘Roy, 'as Symonds was known, dealt with himself off the playing field. His love for the bottle put the stumbling blocks on a career that, at best, could be termed chequered and at worst, reckless. There were far too many crests and troughs in his 11-year-long international journey that began in 1998. A productive phase would invariably be followed by a transgression.

Symonds had a phenomenal run in 2005 (he churned out three centuries and 21 wickets) and would have secured the Allan Border medal for being the ODI player of the year. But he was knocked out of contention after being suspended for turning up drunk against Bangladesh at Cardiff. Symonds revealed the warning he received from the Australian board in his presciently titled book, ‘Roy, Going for broke': “I was also told in the clearest possible terms that any further misdemeanours would see me sent packing. For good.”


Less than a year later, Symonds was embroiled in another controversy: he asked a Super14 rugby player to “take it outside” while at a Cape Town nightclub during Australia's tour of South Africa. Michael Clarke, an avowed supporter of Symonds, had to step in and defuse the situation.

His troubled relationship with consistency dogged him for the first five years of his career. It was in the 2003 World Cup that the Birmingham-born Symonds came of age. His counter-attacking 143 not out off 125 balls against Pakistan gave both him and his team the much-needed momentum. Symonds' 156 in the Melbourne Ashes Test in 2006-07 was also an innings of unquestionable pedigree. In 2007-08, he rose to the height of his prowess as a Test batsman amassing 777 runs in nine matches against Sri Lanka, India, and West Indies.

MONKEYGATE

The unbeaten 162 against India at SCG, in what later turned out to be a highly acrimonious encounter, was followed by a traumatic period. The Monkeygate scandal surfaced and an unpleasant chain of incidents put Symonds off the track. “I honestly believe this incident was the catalyst for Andrew Symonds' demise as an international cricketer,” Paul Marsh, the Australian Cricketers' Association chief executive, said last year. “He was absolutely flying at the time of this incident. and yet he was the person who came out of the issue looking like the guilty party. He never got over the lack of support CA gave him throughout this whole issue.”

Symonds slipped again when he went fishing in Darwin after skipping a team meeting before the ODI series against Bangladesh. Clarke continued to stick up for his mate saying there was no reason Symonds wouldn't be part of the touring party to India if he could “get his head right.” Interestingly, Symonds' previous fishing incident was one that had him and Matthew Hayden endangering their lives in 1999. After the duo's boat sank off Queensland's North Stradbroke Island, the banana benders had to swim for more than an hour in areas infested with sharks.

COURTING TROUBLE

In 2009, he continued to court trouble. He first called Brendon McCullum a “lump of s**t” during a radio interview and was fined A$4000.


The killer blow, though, came when he was sent home after another alcohol-related incident during the ICC T20 World Cup in England.

That effectively put a full stop to Symonds' international career as Cricket Australia decided it had shown sufficient leniency to him over the years. He later admitted to having issues with binge drinking. Symonds continued to play with reasonable success in the IPL and the Champions League for a few years.

At 36, after calling time, he would probably have a lot to ruminate over. Now, with fatherhood and a career in commentary beckoning, Symonds has new frontiers to conquer. A reformed Symonds will make the job easier.



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