The story of Andrew Symonds the cricketer is one of limitless potential, realised briefly but gloriously in a career that seduced Australia and challenged norms.
Here was a cricketer from another genre altogether. A front-rower more than an all-rounder, Symonds and his imposing frame dominated games like few ever have, but always with a wink and a beaming smile.
Cricket had heard about Andrew Symonds long before any of us ever saw him. But once we did, we fell in love.
He batted like a kid playing two age-levels down, bullying bowling attacks with a unique mix of power and grace.
Symonds’s versatile bowling was an underrated weapon.(Getty Images: Jamie McDonald)
He bowled whatever he damn well felt like. Spin one week, medium pace the next. Sometimes with a cap on. Somehow it always worked.
He fielded like nobody had before him. The athleticism of Jonty Rhodes and the laser arm of Ricky Ponting all in one.
Symonds brought more to the game than most in a career cut short, partly by his own excesses and partly by a system that abandoned him when he most needed support.
Symonds contemplated a rugby league career when cricket had stalled. Evidence suggests he could have been a success.(Ezra Shaw: Getty Images)
The great shame now is that the story of Andrew Symonds the man can be spoken about in so many of the same painful terms.
At the age of 46, Symonds has died in a single-car crash not far from Townsville in North Queensland.
He had so much more to give, to his family predominantly, but to all of us too. His limitless potential was realised all too briefly.
Whispers of Roy
Symonds says he knew he was adopted from the time he was old enough to talk.
Born June 9, 1975, in Birmingham, Symonds’ adoptive parents Ken and Barbara took him in when he was 15 months old. The family moved to Australia soon after, settling down in the rural North Queensland town of Charters Towers.
A young Symonds batting for Gloucestershire against Somerset in 1995.(Getty Images: Ben Radford)
Symonds’s British birth would spark debates as his cricket career progressed, but when an England A call up in 1995 forced a decision, there was only ever likely to be one answer.
Through his youth and teenage years, the Symonds buzz had spread through Queensland and Australia. There was a kid out of the far north who was special, a blazing bat destined for the baggy green.
Symonds made his way through the state underage teams before making a first class debut for Queensland in the 1994-95 season.
A Queenslander through and through.(Getty Images: Darren England)
His reputation as a free-scoring, attacking batter led to an ODI debut for Australia in 1998 against Pakistan in Lahore. Symonds bowled two overs and didn’t bat.
Such was the tale of Symonds’s early international career. His stocks at first class level, both in Australia and in English country cricket, were growing but a breakthrough for his country remained elusive.
With form dipping in 2002 and motivation suddenly an issue, there were even brief flirtations with the Brisbane Broncos and a drastic code switch.
Introduced to the world
The 2003 World Cup was era-defining for Australia in so many ways. It was a first major triumph in a decade without the help of Shane Warne. It was the confirmation of Ricky Ponting as the game’s most outstanding batter.
And it was the coming out party, at long last, for Andrew Symonds.
Reflecting on his breakthrough century for Australia against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup.(Getty Images: Hamish Blair)
Symonds was a surprise selection in Australia’s squad as spots were opened by Warne’s drug ban, an injury to Shane Watson and Darren Lehmann’s suspension for using a racial slur.
By 2003, few had faith Symonds would ever turn his promise into practice. Fortunately, Ponting was not among the doubters.
Symonds scored his first international century in Australia’s tournament-opening win against Pakistan. The manner with which he flayed Wasim Akram, Shoahib Akhtar and Waqar Younis to all parts of The Wanderers in Johannesburg will forever be vividly etched into the memory of all who watched it.
In an era of brilliant fielders, Symonds may well stand out as the best.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)
This one innings of 143 not out, coming at a moment of desperate need for his team, was the manifestation of Symonds’s lifetime of work. It repaid the faith of all who had joined him in his journey, and proved to the man himself he truly was capable of all he believed he was.
Symonds remained a key part of the Australian team that would go on to lift the World Cup. But already talk had turned to his next conquest.
Top of the man-mountain
In literal terms, Andrew Symonds replaced Steve Waugh in Australia’s Test team for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, 2004.
He made a duck in his first Test innings and 24 in his second, dismissed both times by the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan.
Andrew Symonds took time to find his feet as a Test cricketer.(Supplied: Cricket Australia)
Symonds was dropped for the third Test of that series, and would not don the baggy green for another 18 months.
A recall for the summer of 2005/06 brought with it the first glimpse of what Symonds may become as a Test cricketer, with a helter skelter 72 against South Africa at the MCG.
That innings proved prophetic. Twelve months later at the same venue, Symonds erupted.
High upon Mount Haydos, Symonds had reached the summit of the game.(Reuters)
A first Test century, 156 to be exact, in a Boxing Day Ashes Test. As the crushing weight came off Symonds’s shoulders, it was passed onto Matthew Hayden’s forehead as his great Queensland friend leapt into a celebratory embrace.
It was one of the defining images of an iconic Australian summer. Cricket would never again be so sweet for Andrew Symonds.
An unwinnable battle
The glitz and glamour of professional sport never appealed to Andrew Symonds. His escape was found on a boat or in a river, fishing rod in hand. And after the day’s work was done, a beer or two.
Drinking had threatened Symonds’s career at many junctions, most seriously in 2005 when he turned up for an ODI against Bangladesh in England still drunk from the night before and unable to stand up.
A late night of drinking in England in 2005 nearly cost Symonds his career.(Getty Images)
Symonds worked hard to keep his drinking under control, and during those fruitful years from 2006 to 2008, he mostly succeeded.
The SCG Test of 2008, between Australia and India, was so many things. It remains one of the most spiteful Test matches ever played, and featured one of the most unforgettable climaxes thanks to the finger spin of Michael Clarke.
For Andrew Symonds, it was the beginning of the end for his career.
The Harbhajan Singh incident in Sydney, 2008 changed everything for Symonds.(Ezra Shaw: Getty Images)
Symonds alleged that Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh called him a monkey during that Test. Symonds’s claim was corroborated by Australian teammates who were nearby to the incident.
The ICC initially handed Harbhajan a three-match ban, only to downgrade that upon appeal from the BCCI. India threatened to boycott the rest of the tour over the allegations, and as Symonds sat at a tribunal alongside Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting, he was wracked by guilt that he had dragged his teammates and friends into the highly-political mess.
There would be no suspension for Harbhajan and no boycott from India, just a hollowness inside Symonds that would never be filled.
Sitting alongside friends and teammates at the Harbhajan hearing, Symonds was wracked with guilt.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)
Racism, specifically the term “monkey”, had followed Symonds for years to that point. And having at last made a stand, Symonds was crushed by the feeling that Australian cricket had let him down.
In the coming years, Symonds would admit to his problems with binge drinking. In June 2009, only 15 months after the Harbhajan incident, Symonds was sent home from the T20 World Cup in England due to “an alcohol-related incident”.
Andrew Symonds’s international cricket career was over.
Back to his roots
In 2012, Symonds officially retired after spending a few years on the international T20 circuit, and dedicated himself to his family.
In recent years, he has lived in Townsville with his wife Laura and two young children, Chloe and Billy.
The life and career of Andrew Symonds were both cut short, but were both filled with more memories than most. (Getty Images: Alex Goodlet)
Together, they lived a simple life as Symonds surrounded himself with the people and places his loved most.
His became a familiar voice in Big Bash commentary, and his unassuming and modest analysis stood apart from his contemporaries.
He remains beloved by those who follow the game, here and abroad, and will forever.
Generations from now, stories of the man they called Roy will be told. Of the time he and Haydos capsized their boat and had to swim to shore.
Symonds moved to broadcasting after his career, and carved out a niche among Big Bash commentators.(Getty Images: Matt Blyth)
Or those infectious wicket celebrations, heels flicked together with dreadlocks dancing in a way Test cricket had never seen before.
And what about the streaker at the Gabba!? Maybe he could have made it as a Bronco after all.
The Andrew Symonds story will now forever feel unfinished, but never unfulfilled. This was a life thoroughly lived, its fruits enjoyed by millions.
We were lucky to be taken along for the ride.