Symonds, all-round bad boy, rides to rescue of Australia

Birmingham-born player who opted for Down Under is back in favour for first Test against Kiwis. By Stephen Brenkley
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The Independent Online

In 1995, Andrew Symonds was made England's young cricketer of the year. It wasn't his fault. This is worth making clear because he has been eminently culpable for most of the other contentious events in his career since.

Redemption and Symonds have become lifelong, if intermittent partners and they renewed their relationship this week. After being suspended by Australia since August for going fishing instead of attending a team meeting – a grave crime in modern cricket – he has been recalled to the squad for the first Test against New Zealand.

It is tempting to conclude that the summons came because Australia are deep in the mire after their 2-0 Test defeat in India and they desperately need their abrasive all-rounder to conceal some of their weaknesses. But the selectors insist that he has done his penance and is fully restored. Michael Clarke, his fellow middle-order batsman and friend, said yesterday that Symonds, or Roy as he is universally known, "was in a great place at the moment".

The obvious inference was that the place he was in before, fuelled by too much alcohol which magnified his chippiness, was far from great. "The main thing that Symo has done is look at himself in the mirror and worked out for himself what he needed to do to get back into this team," said Clarke. "That was a big priority for the leadership group and the team." Perhaps, that is, until the next time, he might have added.

For whatever reason, Symonds is a sportsman who attracts affection and disdain in equal measure. As each scrape arrives it is tempting to think how he might have behaved as the England player he could have been. Symonds was born in Birmingham but left for Australia as an infant with his adoptive parents. When he was 19, using his English parentage, he arrived back home to play county cricket for Gloucestershire. He was devastating, averaging 55 in his 18 innings that summer and reaching his zenith when he struck 16 sixes, a world record, in an innings of 254 not out at Abergavenny.

The members of the Cricket Writers' Club were all but foaming at the mouth. He was a shoo-in for their award. After all, he was English wasn't he? If anything, the selectors' salivated more and they picked Symonds for an England A tour. The waiting was tense but Symonds is, culturally, as Australian as Sir Les Patterson and he eventually declined the invitation.

It took him an age to make the most of his cricketing gifts and most of the steps of the way have been marked by some misdemeanour, perceived or real. There has always been an inner rage in Symonds, as if, despite his abundant natural talent, he always had to prove himself.

Some of his behaviour has been juvenile, some downright unpleasant. At Cardiff in 2005, a precursor to that enthrallingly eventful summer, he turned up for a one-day match against Bangladesh still drunk from the night before and was dropped. Passing him in the outfield warm-up, it was as if Brain's Brewery had been transplanted to Sophia Gardens.

But perhaps his least attractive hour had come the season before in England when he was Kent's overseas player (having long since ditched any semblance of Englishness). Symonds took exception to the temporary captaincy of Ed Smith at Worcester and stopped trying. It was the most unprofessional behaviour a professional could exhibit.

He likes a drink and it has transpired that he went off the rails after his bitter, avoidable spat with the Indian bowler, Harbhajan Singh, in the Sydney Test earlier this year. Harbhajan was alleged to have called Symonds a monkey, a charge of which he was later cleared, but Symonds appeared to get involved needlessly in argument.

Though destined to be slightly unfulfilled (if such can be said of 22 Tests and 193 one-dayers) a good case could be made for Symonds as the most versatile all-round cricketer of his generation, a demonic fielder who seems to devour ground and a bowler whose off-breaks and seamers are both above serviceable. But it his destructive, devil-may-care batting which might have propelled him to the stars.

His one-day breakthrough innings came at Johannesburg in Australia's opening game of the 2003 World Cup. They were 86 for 4 and staring down the barrel because Symonds had made no impact whatever in 30 one-day matches. He compiled a nervelessly attractive 143 from 125 balls and set the tone for Australia's unbeaten tournament. If that innings transformed him, he was still frequently overlooked as a Test cricketer – until the last Ashes. At Melbourne he made a corking 156. It said conclusively that he was not English.

At 33 there may not be much more to come from Roy, but whatever was said yesterday the feeling cannot be dispelled that he and redemption have not yet had their last dance.

Symonds' scrapes

August 2008 Sent home from Australia's ODI squad v Bangladesh for going fishing instead of attending compulsory team meeting.

June/July 2008 Symonds and team-mate Michael Clarke had a blow-up in hotel bar during Caribbean tour after the diligent Clarke caught Symonds allegedly boozing with Brian Lara.

January 2008 Involved in avoidable row after claims that Harbhajan Singh called Symonds a "monkey".

March 2006 Clarke and South Africa rugby prop Ollie de Roux step in to separate Symonds from a Super 14 Cheetah rugby player.

June 2005 Dropped after turning up drunk on morning of Australia's first-ever loss to Bangladesh.