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Neil Drysdale: Andrew Symonds was a force of a nature during his troubled career in cricket

Former Australia player Andrew Symonds has died (Gareth Copley/PA)
Former Australia player Andrew Symonds has died (Gareth Copley/PA)

There was never any shortage of volcanic action when Andrew Symonds was in his pomp on a cricket field.

Whether smashing sixes for Australia or a variety of English counties and Indian Premier League teams, outwitting opponents with his underrated bowling, or demonstrating his remarkable gazelle-like prowess as a fielder, Symonds was a coruscating force of nature; somebody whose career permanently seemed to be on the edge of a windfall or a catastrophe.

It was tragic enough when the news emerged in March that Shane Warne had died at just 52, so the devastation among the baggy-green brigade was understandable when Symonds was killed in a car crash at the weekend at only 46.

Andrew Symonds on tour in India. Photo by Money Sharma/EPA/Shutterstock 

Both men were larrikins, never far away from controversy on and off the pitch, but both were blessed with prodigious talent to burn and an extraordinary knack for seizing matches by the scruff of the neck.

A flair for the flamboyant

He could have represented England, considering he was born in Birmingham, or turned out for the West Indies, given his African-Caribbean background, but the man nicknamed “Roy” was happiest when he was in Northern Queensland where he grew up with a passion for cricket and a flair for the flamboyant, the extravagant and, occasionally, the downright ridiculous.

Anybody who has been in Oz will appreciate their support for sporting clubs and how they have established clear pathways between schools and social or elite organisations. The first trick is to persuade people of the value of healthy exercise.

Symonds later recalled: “Dad was cricket mad. He’d throw balls to me five or six days a week, before school, after school. And we’d play all sorts of games inside the house with ping-pong balls and Christmas decorations.”

Andrew Symonds was a fierce competitor for Australia. Photo by Jon Hrusa/EPA/Shutterstock

Much of his junior cricket was played in Townsville for the Wanderers club, with father and son making the 160-mile return trip sometimes two times a week.

If it was a trek, neither minded and the youngster gradually began to display the gifts which would subsequently see him play 26 Tests, 198 one-day internationals and 14 Twenty20s for Australia between 1998 and 2009.

There were triumphs a-plenty on his CV, and Symonds was a pivotal part of two 50-over World Cup wins for his country and their Ashes victory over England in 2006-07. He was a terrifying prospect at his best and many English bowlers were despatched to all corners when he signed up at different stages with Kent and Lancashire, Gloucester and Surrey.

But he also had to deal with the blight of racism from fans, who made monkey noises in his direction, and he fell out with the Australian management over his fondness for alcohol, a failing which he admitted in 2009, when he said: “I go out and drink hard all in one hit – too fast, too much”.

He could deal with pressure as long as it was on his terms, but fame and the limelight proved a more treacherous proposition. Many supporters privately cheered when he rugby-tackled a streaker during an ODI against India, but others scolded him for not leaving it to the officials to sort it out.

His response – to the effect that if the officials had been doing their job properly, the idiot wouldn’t have gained access to the field in the first place – was absolutely correct, but Symonds was never interested in pursuing a career in the diplomatic corps.

Everything he did was at full throttle.

Andrew Symonds often lit up the IPL. Photo by Aijaz Rahi/AP/Shutterstock

‘His shots were effortless’

When his death was confirmed, I spoke to Paul Hoffmann, the Aussie-born bowler who played for Scotland 119 times. As usual, this genial character had stories to tell and he clearly thought the world of his compatriot.

He told me: “Roy loved backyard BBQs, a cold beer, watching rugby league and spending days fishing with his best mate, Matthew Hayden.

“I played against him a couple of times in 1993 when I was playing for New South Wales and he was with the Australian Cricket Academy XI, which also included Ricky Ponting and Brad Hodge.

“We were playing a 50-over game at the SCG and Symonds hit an aggressive 20-odd before getting out. However, after that brief innings, (former Australian all-rounder) Greg Matthews told us during our team huddle that ‘he (Symonds) is going to be a future superstar’.

“Well, a couple of days later, we played against the Australian Academy again at North Sydney Oval in a four-day game. ‘Roy’ destroyed our bowling attack and took no mercy on our spinners as he launched them beyond the stands.

“He belted a ton in less than a run a ball. His shots were effortless, yet the ball would keep smacking off his bat like a bullet. And he could be destructive against either pace or spin, and was athletic and dynamic in the field.

Andrew Symonds was struck in the face during a Test in South Africa. Photo by Jon Hrusa/EPA/Shutterstock

“Roy was one of those rare 360-degree players who could do everything on a cricket field. He was a fierce competitor, but he always played the game in the right spirit. He will be sadly missed and it really is very sad news.”

Symonds’ last post on Instagram had been posted after the death of Warne, when he wrote: “Devastated, I’m hoping this is all a bad dream”.

But sadly, it’s more of a nightmare for those who are left behind, including his wife Laura and two children, Chloe and Billy.