Andrew Symonds and his then partner Katie Johnson arrive at the Allan Border Medal at Melbourne’s Crown Casino in 2008
The Indian cricket tour that started with the first one-day international in Sydney on Friday will bring bittersweet memories to one of Australia’s greatest – and certainly most controversial – all-rounders, Andrew Symonds.
It was 12 years ago that a similar tour of Australia by the powerful Indian side set Symonds’ career on an alcohol-fuelled slide which saw him forced out of international cricket at the height of his powers.
And it was India that gave him a chance to retire with his reputation enhanced and millions of dollars in the bank.
The inside-story of Symonds’ fall from grace and subsequent rise from the ashes is told in absorbing detail in the new book ‘On Sport’, released last week by respected veteran sportswriter and Daily Mail Australia columnist Mike Colman.
A collection of longform sports articles written over the past 15 years, ‘Mike Colman: On Sport’ covers everything from rugby league, horse-racing, Olympics, and rowing to even synchronised swimming and billiards, but it is the chapter on Andrew ‘Roy’ Symonds that is the most timely – and entertaining.
Conducted as they fished for barramundi at Symonds’ favourite spot on the Ross River near his impressive acreage home at Townsville, it gives unprecedented insight into the mind-set of the 21-Test and former one-day superstar and a behind-the-scenes look at a turbulent time for Australian cricket.
When the name Andrew Symonds comes up two incidents always come to mind, and Colman’s book covers them both – in Symonds’ words.
First, The Streaker. It was March 4, 2008. Australia was playing India in the final of a one-day series at the Gabba when a naked spectator invaded the pitch, ran towards Symonds and was knocked head over heels by a classic shoulder block.
Symonds holds bottles of beer as teammate Mitchell Johnson looks on while they stay in their hotel balcony in Bridgetown after winning the 2007 World Cup
Symonds knocks over a streaker who ran on to the Gabba at a crucial point of a ODI between Australia and India on March 4, 2008
‘It was frustration more than anything. I wasn’t trying to hurt him,’ Symonds says in the book. ‘But it was a final and a tight part of the game. I’d just run Matty Hayden out. We’d just started getting back on track but we were still under the pump. He was an Aussie bloke and he ran out and I’m thinking, mate, are you watching the game? You didn’t have to run out now; you could have saved it for later or done it when they were batting …
‘There was a copper chasing him who was a big man and his two-way had fallen off his belt and was bouncing on the ground and they were getting further and further apart and then the bloke looked at me and smiled and we locked eyes and he came over towards me. The umpire sort of ran backwards and I wasn’t going to do that. I suppose I took things into my own hands.
‘All these meetings we did in pre-season; safety and drugs and racism and all these things and then that happens. They talked to us about safety and then this bloke runs out on the middle of the Gabba. He ran 120 metres and no one got hold of him. What if he did have something sharp and he did want to poke a hole in someone? He was just having a bit of fun, but these are the questions we ask ourselves’.
Then there was what is commonly known as ‘Monkeygate’, the controversy over allegations that Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh had racially abused Symonds by calling him a ‘big monkey’ in the Sydney Test of the 2007-08 series.
Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh was accused of calling Symonds a ‘big monkey’ in the Sydney Test of the 2007-08 series. The pair are pictured shortly after the incident
Harbhajan Singh is pictured with his wife Geeta Basra, who he married in 2015
This followed similar insults by Singh and the crowd during a series in India the previous year. After Australian captain Ricky Ponting made an official complaint, Singh was suspended for three matches.
The Indians were incensed and threatened to boycott the rest of the tour. With huge gate money, broadcasting agreements and the next year’s World Cup being held in Australia all at risk, the case was reheard.
Cricket Australia convinced Symonds and his teammates Ponting, Hayden and Michael Clarke to drop the racism charge for one of ‘abusive language’. With key evidence of Singh’s previous record not presented due to ‘human error’, the punishment was downgraded to a fine and Symonds admonished for instigating the affair.
Six years later, former CA board member Allan Border admitted Symonds had been ‘hung out to dry’.
‘It was just very poorly handled and let’s be honest, it was all about money and politics,’ Roy tells Colman. ‘I’d had it out with Harbhajan the previous series and I said, ‘listen, the name-calling’s got to stop because we’ve got a few names for you blokes too and I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to go to the umpires and it’s going to get out of control’.
Symonds exchanges words with Singh during an ODI at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in 2007
Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Symonds and Matthew Hayden are seen prior to the start of the appeal hearing against a three-match ban imposed on Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh
‘So it was all done and dusted as far as I was concerned. As I said, we go through all this racism stuff, we sit there for hours and hours. We all know right from wrong, we’re not stupid, and then blokes that I enjoyed playing with and was very good mates with, they’re all dragged through the mud. That was not a good time for me. That was when it all started to go downhill.’
Feeling betrayed by the system, Roy went from being Cricket Australia’s golden boy to its biggest headache.
Was that when the drinking became a problem? Colman asked him.
‘Yeah. It got to the point where I’d just had enough, and my way of unwinding is to drink. Obviously sometimes wrong place, wrong time or too much, but that was my way of dealing with it. Whether it was the right way or the wrong way … I did an eight-week course and I was diagnosed as a binge drinker. My problem was not knowing when to stop. I never had any intention of not going to a commitment but obviously turning up in the right state and the right way, I wasn’t always good at that.
‘Towards the end of it, CA started changing the rules on me. I had a different contract to everyone else at the end of my career. I had a curfew, no drinking, all of that. They claim to pride themselves on everyone having the same deal, which wasn’t the case at the end. That was partly my own doing but if I wanted to keep playing for Australia that’s what I had to sign. I didn’t have a choice. I did want to keep playing, so that was something I just had to cop.’
Disgruntled and disillusioned, he sought solace in fishing and booze. They combined to result in him being sent home from a Darwin Test match later that year when he chose fishing over a compulsory team meeting. The feeling that he had been betrayed by his former close friend Michael Clarke over the matter ended their relationship forever.
Symonds and Michael Clarke exchange gifts at a photo session after the Australian nets session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 25, 2006. Their friendship would soon be shattered forever
Clarke and Symonds spray champagne during celebrations after the Australians won the Fifth Test against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2007
The perception at the time was that Clarke put his ambition to become Australian captain ahead of his loyalty to a mate , although Symonds would later reveal their close bond was shattered earlier when he threw a drink in Clarke’s face.
After Clarke had given his version of events in his biography – saying he had voted for Symonds to be sent home ‘for the good of the team’ – Symonds said in a Fox Sports interview with Robert Craddock that the Darwin incident was just the final straw in a long-brewing feud.
‘I threw a drink on him,’ he told Craddock. ‘He didn’t tell me to go to bed, he said something else but I threw a drink on him and what he said to me put me into a rage.
‘What he said to me was nowhere near accurate and that immediate point is where he lost me and I lost him.
‘Our friendship was destroyed in that moment.
‘He’d said to me, not in these words, but he’d suggested I was a selfish player and a selfish person. The one thing I don’t consider myself to be is that and that really annoyed me.’
At one stage Symonds and Clarke were the closest of mates but by the time Mike Colman went to Townsville to interview him in 2016 those days were long gone.
When Colman asked Symonds how he felt the Channel 9 cricket coverage would go that season he replied, ‘Well they’ve just hired Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen – the two most unpopular people in world cricket – so not too good I’d say.’
At one stage Symonds and Clarke (pictured during an ODI against New Zealand in 2005) were the closest of mates
Symonds is seen in his underwear alongside Mitchell Johnson after Australia’s 2007 World Cup win
Symonds continued to play alongside Clarke in the Australian side after the Darwin incident, but his days in the team were numbered.
In 2009 he was sent for counselling after a grog-fuelled outburst on radio in which he called New Zealand wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum a ‘lump of shit’, and finally, later that year, he had his contract torn up after being sent home from the Twenty20 World Cup in England following what was officially termed an ‘alcohol-related incident’.
Symonds laughs as he ends a training session with teammates on the Eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent in March 2007
When the break from CA inevitably came, Roy had a lifeline provided by, ironically, India. The sudden popularity of Twenty20 cricket and the establishment of the Indian Premier League, with its mega-rich club owners resulted in a cash bonanza for players. Roy was in the right place at the right time, being ‘bought’ for $US1.35 million at auction by the Deccan Chargers. For five seasons he won the lottery, received a huge paycheque for six weeks’ work and enjoyed the culture shock of an unreal world of razzamatazz cricket.
‘At the games there was all this entertainment, dancing girls and fireworks and music, and outside of that the parties and fashion shows. You talk about that next level. For the owners it’s about bragging rights. When I played for the Mumbai Indians, iPads had just come out. Our owner went to New York and came back with about 30 iPads for everyone. There were video cameras, phones, all that sort of thing. If we won, the owners would fly us home in their private jet and if we got hammered we’d be down the back in domestic with the crates and the chickens.’
An unexpected bonus of the IPL was the opportunity to play alongside his longtime nemesis Harbhajan Singh.
‘He’s not a hugely different animal to myself, really; that’s probably why we clashed,’ Symonds said of Singh (pictured together when the dust settled on the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal)
Roy’s wife Laura was due to give birth to their second child during the sixth IPL season, and he chose to retire
‘The funny thing was the Mumbai Indians were pretty desperate to get me in their squad that first season but they had Harbhajan, so they didn’t think that would be a good thing,’ he told Colman. ‘Then I ended up going to Mumbai for two years after playing three years with Deccan and we actually got on pretty well. He’s not a hugely different animal to myself, really; that’s probably why we clashed.’
With Roy’s wife Laura due to give birth to their second child during the sixth IPL season, Roy chose to retire. They had moved from Brisbane to Townsville two years earlier and with the pressure off and the proximity to water, bush and Brothers Rugby Club, where he plays lower grades to get his fix of team camaraderie, Roy is now a different man to the tortured soul who reached for the bottle as an escape.
‘That’s run its course,’ he says. ‘There’s probably still times when I drink too much but I don’t need to drink for the same reasons that I used to. If I go fishing I’ll have a few beers but I don’t find myself going out and bingeing and carrying on for days.’
It’s fair to say that Roy is now at peace. As he says, ‘life is good’.
Mike Colman On Sport, a collection of works by the Daily Mail Australia columnist and journalist with more than 30 years experiences, is on sale now
It’s fair to say that Roy is now at peace. As he says, ‘life is good’
Symonds blasts the ball through point during a one day match against India in Chandigarh in 2007
Mike Colman’s On Sport collection of writing is a collection of the best of the respected journalist’s long-form work