May 18, 2022: He was the Indiana Jones of international cricket. He played cricket his way, he lived life his way – and to the full. He was a non-conformist in the manner in which he played the game and in the manner he lived his life on his own terms. Bold, unconventional, swashbuckling were some of the adjectives used to describe his cricket, whether batting or bowling. And Andrew Symonds’ brand of cricket transcended stats. Not that his final career figures were not impressive but he didn’t play for records. He believed in being the entertainer par excellence and in this he succeeded spectacularly. He enjoyed the game and made sure that the spectators enjoyed his batting, bowling and fielding out there in the middle.
Symonds was a larger-than-life figure. It was not just his height and build that attracted attention first and foremost. At 1.87 metres and amply built, he was a strong lad and made sure that he made use of his massive forearms and broad shoulders every time he went out to bat. In his hands as he bent down at the crease to take his stance the bat seemed a toy. But he wielded it with gusto as he did while hammering 16 sixes in an innings and 20 in the match – both first class records at the time – for Gloucestershire against Glamorgan in 1995. Typically, he then announced that he couldn’t care less about the milestones; he only wanted to help his team.
Symonds brought this same cavalier approach into his international career. With the image of a player whose skill was more suited to limited overs cricket he first made his mark in ODIs but talent like his could not be held back and he proved to be an asset to Australia in the traditional format also. But here too he was an unabashed six-hitter aiming to hit the ball hard and high ever so often. In essaying this approach he could be exasperating too for he could get out while having the bowling at his mercy.
Not that it mattered to Symonds. He prided himself on being an entertainer and as such he incorporated an innate sense of enterprise and even daring in his approach that was frequently exceptional. Though known more for his pyrotechnics with the bat he was also a skillful bowler whether firing down off breaks or medium pacers, being particularly striking as a partnership breaker.
Though he figured in 26 Tests, 198 ODIs and 14 T-20 internationals Symonds’ career was largely on and off thanks to his rebellious attitude which landed him in trouble now and then with those in authority and he served out periods of suspension. None however could question his value to the team emphasized by two World Cup winning medals in 2003 and 2007. The tributes paid to him by his teammates after his tragic passing away in a car crash on Sunday at the age of 46 have been handsome and sincere and with a lot of feeling and have underlined the fact that besides being an entertaining cricketer he was always ready to help others.
Ultimately Symonds will be remembered as an effective all-rounder in all formats despite his disdain for facts and figures. His ODI stats are especially eye catching and with 5088 runs and 133 wickets he takes his place as one of the finest utility players. What marks him out as something special in this format is the strike rate with the bat – 92.44. Expectedly his bits and pieces qualities made him a natural for T-20 cricket and the well-publicized lengthy race row involving Harbhajan Singh on the 2007-08 tour of Australia did not prevent him from becoming the most popular overseas player at the inaugural auction of the IPL in 2008 where he was sold for US 1.35 million dollars to the Deccan Chargers.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)