The rope of leniency Cricket Australia (CA) had been extending to the troubled but talented Andrew Symonds snapped recently. He was withdrawn from the World Twenty20 in England and sent home, after it emerged that he had been drinking while watching the opening State of Origin rugby league game on Wednesday night. Seen in isolation it wasn’t a serious offence but it reportedly breached the conditions of a personal contract with CA that was struck after a string of alcohol-related behavioural offences. The 33-year-old from Queensland has a history of indiscretion. Symonds was banned for two matches in 2005 after turning up drunk for a game against Bangladesh in Cardiff. He wrote in his autobiography, Roy, Going for Broke, that he was told after the incident “any further misdemeanours would see me sent packing. For good.” Yet the infractions continued: he missed a team meeting to go fishing, engaged in an altercation with teammate Michael Clarke, and referred, in a drunken interview, to New Zealand wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum in acutely offensive language. He was also involved in several unseemly incidents in pubs, where friends and minders had to intervene to prevent scuffles from escalating. Through it all, CA tried to nurse him, scheduling counselling sessions, and treating him sympathetically. But the recent incident, declared CA chief executive James Sutherland, was the “final straw.”
Symonds is a wonderfully gifted cricketer, which explains CA’s patience with him. An extraordinary athlete capable of changing the course of a game with bat, ball, and in the field, he has few peers in the limited-overs forms of cricket. He has also shown a natural’s grasp of the nuances of batting in the classical form, an achievement not adequately reflected in his respectable average of just over 40 in 26 Tests. Those who have played alongside him describe him as a simple man who couldn’t keep up with the times: a throwback to an earlier era of Australian cricket, when rough-hewn men played as hard as they drank. In an era when Australian cricket embraced professionalism, he was increasingly insecure of fitting in. This insecurity and his omissions from the Test tours of India in 2008 and South Africa in 2009 are believed to have caused his love for the game to fade. It’s a great pity that this exciting sportsman succumbed to the one chink in what often seemed an impenetrable armour. Those who love cricket will be hoping that he will be given another chance.