Not with a bang but a whimper

The cricket world has been rocked to its core by the sudden and untimely retirement of Andrew Symonds.

Not really. Symonds went out with something less than the ‘boom boom’ that his batting was noted for at its best, quitting officially for family reasons. However, it probably had as much to do with no longer being able to cut it in the IPL, and you know it’s time to call it a day when you’re no longer able to compete with the largely zimmer frame-dependent overseas contingent in that league. At 36, he’s pretty young by IPL standards.

As an England fan, it’s fair to say that there’s a lot not to like about Symonds, but nevertheless he was an extremely fine player on his day, particularly in one-day cricket. His batting could be quite brilliantly explosive (16 sixes in an innings being the most obvious example), and his bowling infuriatingly difficult to get away, although it lacked great penetration. To some extent he managed to transfer that to the longer format, finishing with a batting average over 40 from 26 Tests, but it somehow didn’t seem quite right to see him in white clothing, and I suspect he probably felt as at home in Test cricket as Salman Butt currently does in HMP Wandsworth.

In the interests of balance, however, let’s have a few words about the other side to Symonds who, let’s face it, got up more people’s noses than a kilo of cocaine. Although born in the UK and qualified to play for England, he was a naturalised Australian, and he made his intentions pretty clear by rejecting the chance to tour with the England A team in 1995. This, I think, quite annoyed Gloucestershire, who suddenly discovered they had an extra (technically, at least) overseas player even though he had never played an international, and wouldn’t do until 1998. He stayed there for only one more season.

International cricket didn’t suit him at first, but he came good after being called up to the 2003 World Cup squad almost literally because there was no one else, making 143* in the first match against Pakistan. Not bad for a man who turned up to his first Australian contract meeting in a cowboy hat and no shoes.

Mostly though, Symonds ruffled feathers for all of the things he did that didn’t involve actually playing cricket, but most of which instead involved booze. Here is a list of his most serious misdemeanours, and bear in mind all but one of these took place between 2008 and 2009:

  • Taking out a streaker with a shoulder charge during a match
  • Missing an Australia team meeting to go fishing
  • Getting into a bar fight whilst drunk
  • Throwing a drink in his vice-captain’s face upon being told he’d had enough to drink
  • Nearly getting thrown off tour with Australia for turning up to an international match drunk
  • Actually getting thrown off tour with Australia for getting drunk
  • Making less than diplomatic comments during a radio interview. Whilst drunk. Again.

Actually, let’s have a look at that last one in a bit more detail. In January 2009, Symonds went on a light-hearted radio show with two Aussie comedians where he proceeded to call Brendan McCullum a ‘lump of shit’ and admitted enjoying the odd sideways glance at Matthew Hayden’s wife while round there for dinner. Did I mention he was drunk? Not, I would imagine (and I would sincerely hope) his finest hour. Unsurprisingly, Cricket Australia weren’t best pleased and he was banned indefinitely, presumably to go away and think about what he’d done. He did make a comeback, but the board finally snapped after the second tour-binge episode, thereby ending his international career. It was about this point that the whole thing stopped being funny, and actually became pretty sad. He has sinced admitted to being a binge-drinker (I’d never have guessed) although not an alcoholic.

For all the amusing stunts, it’s been a horrible decline for such a talented player, who clearly has a problem or two with how he handles his booze, even if it’s not an addiction. His cricket suffered as well, and in the last 10 games of his career, all for the Mumbai Indians, he managed only 53 runs at 8.83 and took only 1 wicket. He’s been sighted most recently on the Indian version of Big Brother, complete with a translator, which at least means he’s officially hit rock bottom, so the only way is up.

We hope retirement will prove rather happier for Symonds than his last few years of international cricket. It’s usually at this point in a eulogy that the writer says something along the lines of ‘cricket needs more like him’. It really doesn’t. More with his talent, yes, but a little less of the baggage, please.

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