Big hits and dry wit: Why Symonds was so loved
A cricketer caught between two generations, the lasting impression Andrew Symonds left on his teammates has led to an outpouring of grief following his premature passing
Given his rare talent to strike a cricket ball with graceful brutality, it seems sacrilegious to suggest Andrew Symonds' timing was anything but exquisite.
However, the 46-year-old – who died last weekend following a single vehicle accident near Townsville, where he lived in bucolic semi-retirement – could conceivably be considered a player either after or before his time.
And that his mesmerising aptitude to entertain and a similarly instinctive capacity to outrage perhaps seemed better-suited to the eras that preceded, or immediately followed, his 15-year first-class and international career.
Certainly Symonds' distaste for the strict processes and academic theory that came to characterise professional cricket from the late 1990s would have fitted sweetly with the laid-back, lovable larrikin days of the 1970s and 80s.
That was when characters such as Rod Marsh, Merv Hughes and David Boon – all of whom shared Symonds' love for a laugh and a cold beer, not necessarily in that order – were celebrated.
A time that saw stars the calibre of Doug Walters restrict their pre-game warm-up to a couple of darts, either thrown or smoked.
And the extraordinary skillset Symonds nurtured – boundary-clearing batter, bowler of deceptive seamers and spin, impassable fielder who fused athletic anticipation with an unerring throw – would just as easily see him in frantic demand from every global T20 franchise had his playing days peaked in the past decade.
But it's because of that anomalous position he came to hold during his decade in Australian colours and even longer in his beloved Queensland maroon that Symonds developed a cult following among fans worldwide, became a talisman for so many teammates, and is now so widely and deeply mourned.
The rough-and-tumble rogue persona he cultivated belies his heritage: born in the industrial English city of Birmingham to an Anglo-Caribbean couple he never met before being adopted months later by Ken and Barbara Symonds, schoolteachers who emigrated to Australia in early 1977.
Even though Ken Symonds had taken up a teaching position at Victoria's prestigious Geelong Grammar – alma mater of Prince Charles – the family's passion for Australia's nature meant regular camping trips to the Victorian alps or Grampians region before they settled in Charters Towers (135km from Townsville) in 1984.
By that stage, Andrew Symonds had already developed a fascination for fishing and hunting but also exhibited a gift for cricket, which flourished when the family relocated to Queensland's Gold Coast and he forged a friendship with contemporary (now Australia's women's team coach) Matthew Mott.
The teenage pair once put together an opening partnership of 446 in an under-19 match against South Brisbane, at which point they were retired 'out' for 200-plus but not before Symonds asked "what if we both retire and we lose some quick wickets and find ourselves in trouble?".
It was that flint-dry humour as much as his undisputed ability that stoked fierce loyalty among teammates as he progressed through Queensland development squads (with great mate Jimmy Maher), the state's Academy of Sport, the Bulls men's team and then national representation.
Every player who shared a dressing room holds at least one favourite anecdote (usually more) of occasions when Symonds' unsophisticated observations and naive actions quickly escalated into the stuff of legend.
Among favourites are the time he noticed Queensland teammate and regular fishing companion Andy Bichel had printed the letters 'T' and 'P' on the shoulder of his bat to ensure he remained mindful of 'time' and 'patience' every time he prepared to face up.
Symonds duly responded by writing 'S' and 'W' on the back of his preferred blade which, after queries from puzzled onlookers, he revealed to be similarly acronymous shorthand for 'swing harder'.
Then there was the oft-cited encounter with an unnamed seller of lottery tickets in an Adelaide shopping precinct who responded to Symonds' query as to the drawing date of the raffle by informing him it would be "the 31st of this month".
To which he reputedly flashed back: "Well I guess I'll be expecting a phone call on the 32nd then".
And on they would go.
Asking Michael Kasprowicz to remind him of the "RSPCA date of your wedding".
Earnestly assuring teammates his mum's maiden name was "Barbara".
Claiming the hotel at which his team was staying in Perth was pronounced 'renn-dezz-vowse'.
However, the fact Ken Symonds spent six months studying in Paris and taught French throughout his career – as well as his son's sole academic award coming from Alliance Francaise for reciting a French poem at school – suggests the mangling of 'rendezvous' was but one example of playing dumb for comic effect.
For all his genuine guilelessness and bungled malaprops, Andrew Symonds often revealed a talent for home-spun humour that would later win him a cohort of new fans through his increasingly regular post-playing appearances as a television commentator.
The impersonation of ex-Yorkshire and England opener Geoff Boycott he honed during county cricket stints in the 1990s, and which he practiced in duets with Mott, generated the sort of hilarity that would have ensured he was regularly 'mic'd up' if playing T20 cricket these days.
The comically convoluted 'scoring system' he devised to evaluate players' contributions – requiring the use of multiple-coloured pens to maintain a running tally – was delivered with such devastating deadpan it was entirely plausible he believed in the legitimacy of his mad-professor ratings tool.
And it was his capacity to defuse tensions within a group that value-added to Symonds' imposing cricket ability, as he was routinely identified as the teammate most valued by a roll call of decorated players through an era of spectacular success for both Australia and Queensland.
Symonds' career-defining century in his team's opening match of the 2003 ICC World Cup in South Africa is often characterised as the result of then captain Ricky Ponting's unbending faith in the occasionally erratic allrounder's ability and insistence he be named in that squad.
But Ponting has confirmed the push for Symonds' inclusion he and coach John Buchanan championed was also based on their belief they needed peripheral players whose character would complement the hard-nosed regulars.
As events transpired, suspensions and injuries meant Symonds, Bichel and Brad Hogg – another rich source of often unintentional mirth – assumed roles well beyond morale maintenance in Australia's flawless Cup defence.
In addition to his ice-breaking humour, Symonds earned respect and landed himself in strife more than once through his unflinching honesty.
At one of his lowest points, when he arrived for a one-day international against Bangladesh in Cardiff in 2005 still intoxicated after a long night of heavy drinking, he responded to Ponting's ire about the state in which he had presented himself by countering: "well don't pick me then".
Buchanan later claimed his conversation under similar circumstances that morning led to Symonds observing: "I've played like this before".
It's unclear whether the ensuing penalty of $20,000 fine and two-match suspension was heightened or diminished by his candour.
Buchanan – who had been recently installed as Queensland coach when Symonds made his Sheffield Shield debut in 1994 – well knew the gifted allrounder's preparedness to call it as he saw it.
As part of his mission to ensure his charges evolved as more rounded people as well as better cricketers, Buchanan recommended a reading list that included motivational texts including Dr Spencer Johnson's problem-solving parables 'Who Moved My Cheese?'.
When canvassing thoughts from players as to what they had gleaned from that best-selling tome, Symonds told him bluntly: "Didn't read it ... I don't read books".
However, while Symonds' views on some modern coaching methods and his occasional performances on and off the field might have suggested an indifference to his craft, there was nobody more fiercely proud to don the uniform of his state or country in competition.
On Buchanan's first overseas venture as Australia coach, to New Zealand in 2000, he asked every member of the touring party to make a presentation to the playing group on a topic they held a passion for, and Symonds spoke at length about Australia's coat of arms.
Amid a rooftop celebration after Ponting's all-conquering team completed a Test series win in Bangladesh in 2006, Symonds became so incensed by the sight of an Australian tourist wearing a teammate's Baggy Green cap he grabbed it from the startled interloper's head and demanded he immediately leave the party.
"You don't put one of those on your head unless you've been chosen to play Test cricket for Australia, pal," snarled the 388th man to legitimately don the fabled cap.
But Andrew Symonds was much more than vigilant enforcer of the Baggy Green brotherhood.
It was his unwavering commitment to club and country, along with the gift for levity and loyalty he shared with trusted teammates and an acumen for cricket that was as pure and uncomplicated as his spirit that made Symonds so intrinsic to Australia's most recent golden epoch.
And it's why – following the deaths of more senior Test brethren Barry Jarman, Dean Jones, Eric Freeman, Colin McDonald, Sam Gannon, Ashley Mallett, Alan Davidson, Peter Philpott, Rod Marsh and Shane Warne across the past two years – the cricket community is so numbed by his premature passing.