Monday, February 20, 2012

Andrew Symonds: Peak Failure

Thumbing my way through the pages of sport, from local rags to the international columns, it was hard not to notice the lack of news stories beyond who would manager England's football team. Yet squeezed between last nights ice hockey results (they play ice hockey here?) & the winners from some far flung race track was the retirement of Andrew 'Roy' Symonds.

Just a small paragraph of his moving on to be a father to his child and a husband to his wife, there must be those who do not follow the IPL out there surprised to learn he was even still playing. The Mumbai Indians were happy enough to have him last year but the Australian team had moved on from Symonds and his sagas nearly three years ago.

Symonds was a man with great aptitude - and attitude. His talent allowed him to play 26 Tests and 198 one-day internationals for Australia more than most average Australian club cricketers could dream of; but his troubles prevented him from playing far more. His legacy cannot be anything but chequered. He won plenty of games for his country but was also at the centre of more than his share of controversies. Neither aspect of his career should be forgotten.

Whether Symonds will be remembered as a villain or a victim depends on your viewpoint. His supporters will say he was hung out to dry by Cricket Australia after Monkeygate; his critics will point to his behavioural problems before that, and argue that he was the architect of his own downfall through choices he made. The reality lies somewhere in the middle. For Symonds had as many friends as he did enemies on both sides of the boundary rope, having complained his instant fame and glaring spotlight is what drove him to his faults, only to be happy signing onto all the corporate attachments available to cricketer of his stardom.

Harbhajan was banned for three Tests during a tour full of antagonism, and a series in which Symonds added to the tension between the two sides by admitting, after the fact, that he had got a thick edge behind when he was given not out early in his Sydney innings of 162. The Indian board pressured the ICC to replace the umpire Steve Bucknor for the next Test and the ICC obliged.

Less than a year later, he was in a bar in Cape Town celebrating Australia's Test win when he asked a Super 12s rugby player to "take it outside". Michael Clarke, also the man who had tried to help Symonds sober up in Cardiff, dragged him away from the situation in Cape Town and prevented a brawl that might have ended Symonds' Australia career then and there.

After Monkeygate, there was a fishing trip in Darwin when he was supposed to be at a team meeting for Australia's ODI series against Bangladesh; a radio interview in which he called Brendon McCullum a "lump of shit"; and he was sent home from the World Twenty20 in England in 2009 when he was spotted drinking at a bar, after having agreed not to drink in public all tour.

That alcohol became such an issue for Symonds is a shame. His talent was not wasted, but nor was it fulfilled. Cricket Australia's chief executive, James Sutherland, a man who grappled with the Symonds conundrum over many years, this week reflected on Symonds' on-field talents.

His 156 in the Melbourne Ashes Test of 2006-07 rescued Australia from a shaky position. He was good enough to be a force in all three formats. His batting was muscular and he could leave spectators breathless like few other men in world cricket, but he also had a sound defence when he chose to use it. His medium pace and offspin appeared innocuous, but they bought him 165 wickets for his country.
In the field there were few more electrifying. Off the field there were few more exasperating. Now there is no more "on the field" for Symonds. He will look back at his career, as others will, with mixed feelings. Now fatherhood beckons.
Father time has a habit of robbing the greats of further glory, it seems Symonds will never the feeling of his talent slipping from his grasp, as we shall never sit and witness it in its flight.

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