Andrew Symonds obituary

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<span>Photograph: Jenny Evans/EPA</span>
Photograph: Jenny Evans/EPA

Andrew Symonds, who has died aged 46 following a single-car accident in North Queensland, played 26 Tests and 198 one-day internationals for Australia when they were the best team in the world at both. In any other era he would probably have doubled his tally of caps, and had he been a little more circumspect in his enthusiasm for post-match revelry might have sat alongside Keith Miller and Richie Benaud as one of his country’s greatest all-round cricketers. Instead, he had to settle for the perch just below.

An integral part of two World Cup winning teams, in 2003 and 2007, he kickstarted the first campaign with an unbeaten 143 against a strong Pakistan side. This came the day after Shane Warne had been sent home for taking a banned substance, but Symonds was undaunted.

He was certainly built for maximum impact. Standing a muscular 6ft 2in tall and sporting shoulder-length dreadlocks, at least part of the time, and with sunblock applied like warpaint, he looked and made for an intimidating opponent. A superb, athletic fielder, who also bowled useful off-spin and medium-pace, in 1995 he showed himself to be a hard-hitting batsman in striking 16 sixes in an innings for Gloucestershire against Glamorgan. The county cricket record stood until Ben Stokes broke it earlier this season.

Symonds’ desire to dominate bowlers did not always succeed but when it did, as with the 156 he scored in the Boxing Day Ashes Test of 2006, the spectacle was pure theatre. This highlight should have been matched by the unbeaten 162 he made against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground at the start of 2008, but that game was marred by an incident in which India’s off-spinner, Harbhajan Singh, was accused of calling him a “monkey”.

Of mixed ethnicity – his biological parents were thought to be African- Caribbean and Scandinavian – Symonds had experienced racist taunts growing up as the adopted child of a white couple in rural Queensland. He had also endured it at the hands of Indian crowds during a one-day series a few weeks before that SCG match, so was determined not to let further abuse go unchecked.

Harbhajan was banned for three matches for racist abuse but denied the charge. This prompted the Indian Board (BCCI) to threaten to cancel the tour. A judge-led inquiry was set up, but Harbhajan’s ban was overturned on appeal; Symonds’ concerns and dignity were seemingly brushed aside.

Players and friends close to Symonds, including Australia’s captain, Ricky Ponting, reckon the incident affected him and he was never the same afterwards. His rebel nature, in abeyance due to an extended run in the team, resurfaced while his personal discipline declined to the point where he missed a team meeting to go fishing.

Placed on notice after Cricket Australia made him sign a no-drinking clause in his contract, he was caught breaking it just before the 2009 World T20 in England and sent home. Cricket Australia did not renew his contract and he was dropped from all formats – an outcome he later claimed he did not regret after falling out of love with international cricket. Although let down by the establishment he did not feel embittered. For him it had always been about the simple pleasure of having fun playing with people he liked, and that had gone.

Born in Birmingham, Andrew was adopted by Barbara (nee Hemming) and Ken Symonds, both teachers, who already had a son and daughter. When Andrew was three months old the family emigrated to Australia, first to Victoria, then settling in Charters Towers, Queensland, and later moving to the Gold Coast.

In addition to school cricket, Andrew played for the Wanderers Club in Townsville. He loved the great outdoors, especially fishing and wild-pig hunting. So enamoured was he of the North Queensland lifestyle that he once turned up to sign a contract with the suits from Cricket Australia wearing a singlet, shorts, flip-flops and an Akubra hat, and stinking of fish bait – cricket’s very own Crocodile Dundee.

His place of birth meant he was qualified to play cricket for England, a possibility that gathered momentum after his fine season with Gloucestershire in 1995. To test allegiances, England’s selectors picked him for an England A tour, but Symonds turned down the offer saying he was a “dinky-di Aussie who wanted to play for Australia”. Loyalty was his watchword.

He had made his debut with Queensland in 1994, and played 18 seasons with them. In England, he went on to play for Kent and Lancashire. Having dispensed with championship cricket by 2009, he played T20 for Surrey and the Indian Premier League team Deccan Chargers, now defunct, and, from 2011, Mumbai Indians, where, having settled their differences, he played alongside Harbhajan.

Not many master cricket well enough to represent their country in Tests, 50-over and T20. Yet, not only did Symonds achieve that, but he fulfilled the criterion of the true all-rounder – which is to have a bowling average lower than your batting average.

In 2012, aged 37, Symonds retired from all cricket and turned to TV, where he found a niche commentating on Big Bash matches for Fox Sport. This came after playing himself in a Bollywood movie and appearing in the Indian version of Big Brother.

In 2005 he married Brooke Marshall, but they divorced the following year. He later married Laura Vidmar, with whom he had a daughter, Chloe, and a son, Billy; all three survive him.

Andrew Symonds, cricketer and commentator, born 9 June 1975; died 15 May 2022

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