Andrew Symonds died on May 14, 2022, aged 46. He played 26 Test matches, 198 ODIs, and 14 Twenty20 Internationals, and was part of Australia’s World Cup-winning side in 2007. He was remembered in the 2023 Wisden Almanack.
SYMONDS, ANDREW, died in a car accident on May 14, aged 46. Andrew Symonds scored his maiden Test hundred at the coliseum of the MCG during a thrashing of England, but he had announced himself in more tranquil surroundings. In August 1995, at the Pen-y-Pound ground in Abergavenny, he hammered an unbeaten 254 for Gloucestershire against Glamorgan, including 16 sixes, then the first-class record. The last, wrote Matthew Engel in The Guardian, came “when he lifted one just right of the sightscreen, clearing some hawthorns and a patch of bindweed and landing on a tennis court”. Three balls were never found. Gloucestershire had been 79-5 before Symonds put on 213 with Reggie Williams, keeping wicket while Jack Russell was on Test duty. “He was sensational,” said Williams. “I was at the other end, just squirting it down to third man. He was down on one knee sweeping the spinners, but it was also eye-opening how he played the quicks. There was no slogging – he played proper cricket shots.”
During his second-innings 76, Symonds moved past the then-record for most sixes in a match, with four more. He was just 20, but there was nothing immature about his talent. A hitter of colossal power, a useful bowler of both medium-pace and off-spin, and an electrifying presence in the field, he was destined for stardom. The question was: who for?
Born in Birmingham, Symonds moved to Queensland at 18 months. He never knew his birth parents, one of whom was of West Indian heritage. His potential had been noted at the Australian Academy, but he came to wider attention with a blistering century for Queensland against England at Toowoomba in December 1994, in his third first-class appearance. It was, wrote Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Daily Telegraph, “an innings of outstanding class, mentally fearless, technically impeccable and, above all, full of natural strokes”.
Symonds headed for Bristol as an England-qualified player, hitting 1,346 Championship runs at 56, and 700 in the one-day competitions. He was named the Young Player of the Year by the Cricket Writers’ Club, an award open only to those available for England. “He’s certainly in the frame for our winter tours,” said England team manager Ray Illingworth. But, after being chosen for an England A trip, to Pakistan, he opted for Australia. He returned to Gloucestershire in 1996, and later spent five years as an overseas player at Kent, scoring a 34-ball hundred in a T20 match against Middlesex at Maidstone in 2004. He had a brief spell with Lancashire in 2005, and a T20 stint with Surrey in 2010.
Such was the depth of Australia’s talent pool that he had to wait for his chance. He did not make his one-day international debut until 1998, and had played 94 ODIs before his first Test, in March 2004. Dreadlocked, more than 6ft and 13st, and usually wearing white zinc cream on his lips, he was unmissable. And he was superb in the covers. “He changed the landscape of fielding for ever,” said Matthew Hayden.
Symonds was at his peak during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, topping the batting averages with 326 runs at 163. In the opening game against Pakistan at the Wanderers, he came in at 86-4 and hit an unbeaten 143. “I should never have been picked for that World Cup,” he said years later. “I hadn’t scored enough runs or taken enough wickets. It was just a gut instinct from Ricky Ponting and John Buchanan. It was the defining innings of my career. It was either get it done then, or look for another job.”
He seemed set for more success, but became mired in controversies. In 2005, he turned up late for an ODI against Bangladesh in Cardiff, still worse for wear after a night out. It might have gone under the radar had Australia not crashed to a sensational defeat. He was fined and suspended for two matches, but atoned in the return game at Old Trafford with figures of 5-18, his best in ODIs. He was named Player of the Tournament.
The charge sheet, though, grew. In August 2008, he went fishing rather than attend a team meeting before a one-day series against Bangladesh, and was suspended again. Hayden was incensed by his close friend’s behaviour, until Symonds sent him a photograph of a barramundi he had caught: “Hey mate, look what you missed by going to that meeting.” Three months later, he was involved in an altercation in a Brisbane bar after a Test against New Zealand. Early in 2009, he appeared on a radio show, seemingly drunk, and called Brendon McCullum “a lump of shit”. Under orders from Cricket Australia, Symonds sought counselling about his drinking but, before the World T20 in England in 2009, he was sent home for “an alcohol-related issue”. At 34, after 26 Tests, 198 ODIs and 14 T20 internationals, he had played his last game for Australia. “I think it was pretty simple really,” wrote Ponting. “He just got sick of it.”
One episode had proved a turning point. Against India at Sydney in January 2008, Symonds hit an unbeaten 162, his second and last Test century. When India batted, he became involved in a series of verbal exchanges with Harbhajan Singh; Ponting complained to the umpires that Harbhajan had called Symonds a “monkey” or “big monkey”. Harbhajan was suspended for three games by match referee Mike Procter – the beginning of a four-week saga dubbed “Bollyline”. The BCCI threatened to call off the tour, throwing CA into a panic; deals were done behind closed doors. Judge John Hansen downgraded the charge against Harbhajan, and lifted the ban; Symonds was blamed for instigating the spat. The decision hit him hard.
“The thing that was grinding on me the most was the lying,” he said later. “The stump microphone evidence disappeared. Then the lies started, and it became political. The captain was made to look like a fool, and I was too. It weighed on me – I started drinking heavily.” Six years later, former Australia captain Allan Border, a CA board member, admitted Symonds had been “hung out to dry”.
He had revealed his potential at an early age. At 15, he scored a double-century on debut for Gold Coast Dolphins. Four years later, in his first game for the Under-19s, he hit another double, against South Brisbane, and put on 446 in 36 overs with Matthew Mott. A coach during his formative years first called Symonds “Roy”, after the Australian-American basketball player Leroy Loggins, and the name stuck. He had a bat deal at 13, and prepared for stardom. “How does this signature look?” he asked a schoolfriend.
But he always gravitated towards country pursuits: fishing, camping, hunting wild pigs. He once arrived barefoot and wearing a Stetson for a contract meeting with CA, and offered to take a 20% pay cut if it meant more time fishing and less corporate work. “He’d have been perfect in the 1970s or ’80s, when he could really kick it around off the field,” said Robert Craddock, of Brisbane’s Courier-Mail. “All the corporates wanted him, but he just wanted that quiet life, a man apart and a throwback to a different era.”
The Bollyline controversy had an unlikely postscript. When the IPL launched in 2008, Symonds was the highest-priced overseas player, costing Deccan Chargers $1.35m. The monkey taunts had first been heard from Indian crowds during an ODI series in late 2007, but he was a big hit at the IPL: in 2009, the Chargers lifted the trophy. When he switched to Mumbai Indians in 2011, Harbhajan became a team-mate; differences were patched up. He became an unexpected success as a Big Bash commentator for Fox Sports.
Symonds died when his car left the road at Hervey Range, around 30 miles from his home in Townsville, northern Queensland. No other vehicle was involved, and there was speculation he had swerved to avoid an animal. His two Australian cattle dogs survived. Barely two months after the deaths of Rod Marsh and Shane Warne, Australian cricket was once again in mourning. At a one-day international against Zimbabwe at Townsville in August, his wife, Laura, and children, Billy and Chloe, joined other family members in standing with the teams for a minute’s silence. “He was a pure heart,” said Adam Gilchrist. “He found his way into trouble as good as anyone, but when he did he was remorseful… and then he’d dust himself off and have another go.”
Symonds, Andrew died on May 14, 2022, aged 46.