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Andrew Symonds’ India love affair was long and defined his career

Andrew Symonds' unconventional approach, bludgeoning use of the cricket bat, his bowling and fielding, all seemed to come into its own against India.

May 15, 2022 / 01:25 PM IST
Andrew Symonds eventually played alongside Harbhajan Singh, his teammate in the Mumbai Indians. Symonds was also a wild-card entry in the Bigg Boss house, and he appeared in the cricket flick 'Patiala House' starring Akshay Kumar. (file photo)

Andrew Symonds eventually played alongside Harbhajan Singh, his teammate in the Mumbai Indians. Symonds was also a wild-card entry in the Bigg Boss house, and he appeared in the cricket flick 'Patiala House' starring Akshay Kumar. (file photo)

Enfant terrible.

That’s how Indian cricketers of a particular generation would remember Andrew Symonds who tragically passed away in a car accident early Sunday morning (May 15, 2022).

Symonds always seemed to find a way to succeed against India or so it seemed to those watching from the sidelines. His unconventional approach, bludgeoning use of the cricket bat, his bowling and fielding, all seemed to come into its own against India.

Under-19 cricket

It was a love-hate relationship which started way back in 1993-94, when an Australia under-19 team toured India for a bilateral series. India’s under-19 team in that series included future star VVS Laxman. The other notable Indian players were Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Sridharam Sriram, Pankaj Dharmani and Rahul Sanghvi. Australia’s side featured the likes of Mike Hussey, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Matthew Nicholson.

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An under-19 series in most cases shouldn’t really stay in memory for long, but Symonds made it a memorable one. He emerged as the second-highest run-getter in the ‘Test’ series, behind Laxman. But what he is best remembered for is a hurricane knock of 163 where he simply pummelled the Indian bowlers at Thiruvananthapuram. Then his brisk knocks of 93 and 58 at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, in the third and final ‘Test’ simply left everyone scurrying for cover. Not inside the stadium, but outside. His sixes kept landing at the nearby hockey stadium.

Also see: In Pics | Andrew Symonds' remarkable career

First-class debut

However, this was just the start.

Symonds was just making his presence felt slowly but surely as he made his first-class debut for Queensland state side in Australia. Later, in 1995, in his debut English county season, Symonds teamed up with former India paceman Javagal Srinath for Gloucestershire. It was a season where Srinath wowed the entire English circuit with his pace and Symonds with his bat. As he qualified to play for England, Symonds was even offered a spot on the England A side. However, Symonds decided that he would stick to Australia. That would make sure that the all-rounder would have a significant role to play in a successful era for Australian cricket.

However, Symonds’ choice of Australia did not stop him from plying trade for Gloucestershire. In 1996, when an Indian team toured England, they were drawn to play Gloucestershire in a three-day warm-up game before the Test series.

India batted first and, thanks to their senior pro Navjot Singh Sidhu, Sanjay Manjrekar, Rahul Dravid and Vikram Rathour posted a decent total. But what they did not account for was a 20-year-old zinc cream sporting cricketer who could strike at will. Yet again in a contest against India, Symonds was able to hammer the bowling at will. It was a quaint little ground at Bristol which witnessed brutality with the bat as compared to the touch play of the Indians. Symonds slammed an unbeaten 120 off 138 balls with 16 boundaries and two sixes.

India A vs Australia A

India and Symonds went separate ways thereafter, but only for him to re-emerge in Los Angeles of all the places in 1999. By then, Symonds had already played for Australia in ODI cricket, but had far from cemented a permanent place. That Los Angeles trip offered an opportunity for Symonds to stake a permanent claim.

The series on hand at the unlikeliest of venues was a five-match One-day series between India A and Australia A. Symonds emerged as the highest run-getter, netting a total of 153 runs from four games with two half-centuries. Laxman was yet again at the receiving end of a Symonds blast as he was the India A captain.

Australia tour

A couple of months after the American blitzkrieg, it seemed like India would have to once again encounter the all-rounder when they toured Australia in 1999-2000. But imagine having to deal with him on the very first game of the tour. India was drawn to play Queensland in a four-day encounter before a mega Test series. It was meant to be a warm-up, but it ended up being a nightmare.

Once more, it was Symonds who slammed yet another hundred against the Indian team. He ended with 161 off 174 balls with 26 boundaries and a six. India lost the game by 10 wickets as Laxman once again witnessed a Symonds blast.

The Symonds-India love affair did not really take off thereafter for another eight years. There were odd glances at each other in the interim period, but nothing that stayed in the minds forever.

2007 T20 World Cup

His next big skirmish of sorts against India came in 2007, during and after the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. India beat all odds to emerge champion in the first-ever edition of the tournament. The whole country went into a tizzy, celebrating like never before. An open bus ride for the victorious team, prizes galore for individual players and a lot more awaited the Indian players.

Australia who were beaten by India in the semi-final of that T20 World Cup were already in town to play a bilateral ODI series. Symonds, watching all this from his hotel room in Bangalore, was amused by the reactions over the triumph. Australia, after all, had won the ODI World Cup thrice in a row from 1999-2007. It did seem a bit over the top to the Aussies, but only Symonds blurted it out.

The feeling has come from the carry-on that surrounded their Twenty20 World Cup win. When we got here, it was just everywhere. Our blokes thought it was really over the top. Some of the things their players have been given and the way they are treated, it's like they are rock stars and princes. The Indian Government gave them a whole heap of money for winning the Twenty20. Yuvraj Singh got a Porsche. Blokes are getting houses and blocks of land. Two days before our first game, the Indians didn't train because their guys were shooting commercials. As an Aussie, it has been irritating because it has been right in our face. We see them on 10 television channels every day. - This was Symonds in a column he wrote for The Herald Sun on October 14, 2007.

This did not go down well with either the Indian players or the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). While the Indian board objected to his utterances, the players got into a verbal battle with the all-rounder throughout the ODI series. Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh seemed to be the ones who would take on Symonds throughout the series. Angry reactions after dismissing Symonds seemed to be the order of the day.

Monkey chants

It was a long ODI series, one which deflated the Indian side under a new captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. By the time the series reached Vadodara, things got to a point where the crowd also got into a battle with Symonds. For the first time, the monkey chants were heard when Symonds was fielding around the boundary in Vadodara. The International Cricket Council (ICC) got involved with the then CEO Malcolm Speed, issuing a letter asking the BCCI to deal with the issue firmly.

It was then carried onto Nagpur in a high-scoring contest. Again, this time it started with one member of the crowd with the Aussie camp claiming that 20 others joined in to abuse Symonds. This time again it was the monkey chant. An Australian newspaper reported how a TV presenter had to silence the crowd in Nagpur.

"It's a little bit out of my hands how it's been handled, the only thing I will say is that it didn't particularly bother me. Then when someone or somebody comes out and completely denies something's happened - that's pretty disappointing," was how Symonds reacted to the situation.

The worst was yet to come, though. As the teams gathered in Mumbai for the seventh and final ODI, the tension was building up. The series was already sealed by Australia, but Symonds remained the talking point because of his battles.

When he walked out to bat in the ODI at Wankhede Stadium, it was a far cry from his first appearance there in 1993-94 for the Australian under-19 side. This time the stadium was packed and the crowd booed him collectively. During the game. the Australian team officials claimed that a section of spectators on the North Stand not only booed him but also racially abused Symmo, as he was called by his teammates. The Australian camp claimed that the crowd mimicked a monkey. This was offensive to say the least because of Symonds’ Afro-Caribbean roots.

The Mumbai Police swung into action and arrested a few spectators for this behaviour. The two boards also issued a joint statement.

"There is no place for racism in cricket - either on or off the field. It (racism) is a global problem, and is not confined to specific nations. It is our expectation that the specifics of the ICC Anti Racism Code be enforced without fear or favour," said BCCI chief Sharad Pawar and CA chairman Creagh O'Connor in the statement.

Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds. (Image: Reuters) Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds. (Image: Reuters)

Harbhajan-Symonds war of words

It seemed like the issue had died down. The Indian players were then asked by their board to calm down, with a full tour of Australia scheduled in over a month.

But then things got messy on the Australian tour. In the second Test at Sydney, once again it was Symonds who was at the centre of it all. Australia was in trouble but controversial umpiring by Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, saved the home team. Symonds was piecing together a recovery and survived thrice, thanks to the largesse of the umpires.

The Indians did not take too kindly. During India’s batting, the now famous Harbhajan-Symonds war of words broke out. The Aussies alleged that Harbhajan uttered the monkey slur and a major battle erupted. Towards the end of the Test, India were undone by a combination of poor batting and inept umpiring. By then the Symonds saga also earned a name, Monkeygate.

There were separate battles being fought. India’s Test captain Anil Kumble hit out at the Australians for the poor sportsmanship, while the hosts were still seething at Harbhajan’s alleged abuses.

The same Symonds who had brought the two countries together a couple of months ago was now going to be the reason for a major split in world cricket. India’s might prevailed as the charges were watered down and the abuse was passed off as a reference to an Indian term ‘Maa Ki’. Symonds was a broken man because he had been left high and dry by the power brokers.

Andrew Symonds was part of Australia's World Cup winning squad in 2007. (Image: AFP) Andrew Symonds was part of Australia's World Cup winning squad in 2007. (Image: AFP)

Indian Premier League (IPL)

He was never the same cricketer and got into various tiffs with his teammates too. His Australian career ended abruptly. But even at the height of the Monkeygate scandal, Roy, as he was nicknamed by some of his teammates, fetched a whopping US$1.35 million in the inaugural IPL player auction. He teamed up with Laxman, the man who had been at the receiving end of many a bashing by him, at Deccan Chargers Hyderabad (the franchise was dissolved in 2012). Symonds was the second-most expensive player at the time. He even blasted a 53-ball 117 not out against the Rajasthan Royals during a short stint in the inaugural edition.

He returned in 2009 and played a part in Deccan’s title triumph. In the third season, he made news for batting with a Mongoose bat, a specialised bat used for big hits.

Then in 2011, after a mega auction, he moved to the Mumbai Indians at US$850,000. It was here that he was reunited with his bête noire Harbhajan. The pair let bygones be bygones as they played together and even celebrated - at times - together!

Symonds’ last official representative game was for Mumbai Indians during the 2011 Champions League Twenty20.

He did make several trips to India post his sports career as a TV expert. He even appeared on the reality show Bigg Boss as a wild card entrant.

His ‘battles’ with matinee idol Akshay Kumar in the 2011 movie Patiala House, a cricket-based flick, were also memorable for the Indian audiences.

However, his best role was on the cricket field, which left many in awe because of his abilities. Sadly, a combination of factors ensured that he under-achieved as a cricketer.

India would remember him as a man whom they loved to hate, but still enjoyed battling with.



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Chandresh Narayanan is an independent cricket author, writer and broadcaster who has worked in the sport for over two decades, with stints at The Indian Express, The Times of India, Neo Sports, IPL, ICC and Delhi Daredevils. He also authored two books on the sport and regularly calls live cricket. He tweets @chand2579
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