Right, so my first cricket post. There's nothing else going on in cricket at the moment - probably why this is still making headlines.
I get the feeling that if you met Andrew Symonds, you probably wouldn't like him. There's no doubt in my mind that what makes Roy "Roy" is the sort of Aussie boof-headery that is charming when played out with a bat in his hand in front of 80,000 people at the MCG, but is genuinely obnoxious off it. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he turned out to be your basic, pig-ignorant dickhead.
Sure, he's everyone's favourite action hero. The dreads, the zinc-cream, the swash, the buckle, the derring-do, the sheer bulk of him. He doesn't just hit a cricket ball to the fence, he beats it into submission. Even his forward defence carries a certain amount of menace, and it’s exactly this sort of physicality, his artlessness, and his single-minded aggression that make up someone that, if popular opinion is to be believed, is just about the most Australian man alive, and hugely popular on that basis.
But it’s not just the cricket, or the way he goes around it, is it. It’s the whole package. It’s the tall stories about fishing trips with Matt Hayden. The larrikin streak. The brushes with authority. And doesn’t the world just LOVE the fact that when “Symmo” gets in trouble it’s for having a few too many in Cardiff, or more recently for fishing, for crying out loud. How Australian is that? When AFL footballers are getting done for repeat drug abuse and involvement with organised crime (Ben Cousins take a bow), Symonds’ indiscretions seem like good, clean fun.
You only need to look at Jamie Pandaram’s article in the Age to get an idea of how he’s received. You can’t drop Roy! Roy’s a legend! A man’s man! A true Aussie battler! Etc! And naturally, Michael Clarke only disciplined him (the obvious implication being that he did it alone and uni-laterally, which is far from the truth) because he’s trying to make a name for himself, what with his tatts and his earring and peroxide blonde hair. The girl. And it’s just the sort of one-eyed parochialism that really annoys me.
Alex Brown, in his excellent article in Saturday’s SMH has a much more balanced view, in my book. There are a few lines that stick out for me.
"… at the opposite end of the spectrum, the more sinister side of this double-edged sword, goodwill is harder to detect. There, Symonds is a sook, a brute, a character for the too-hard basket. And in that pigeonhole he will stay - until his next century."
"Many - journalists, in particular - have witnessed his leery, bullying side at pubs and nightclubs, where alcohol and testosterone have contributed to open hostility. But it has been the Harbhajan Singh affair that has most embittered Symonds. The sense of betrayal at Cricket Australia's supposed lack of support during the Monkeygate controversy has consumed him, resulting in a lingering anger that has eroded his passion for the game."
Let’s have a look at these points one by one, shall we?
First of all, a sook? Our Roy? Surely not! Never in a million years!
Actually, I have no difficulty believing this at all. It was probably Uncle JRod who best summed up Symonds’ hypocrisy about the now-cancelled ICC Champions Trophy. It WAS just a bit interesting that he was perfectly happy to go to be paid in spades to go to India for the IPL, and play in Mumbai, a recent terrorist target - but as soon as the words “Pakistan” and “security” get mentioned, out came the statements to the press. JRod brings up the key word “Muslim” and someone else “no beer” which may or may not be being overly cynical, but you make your own mind up. Whatever his motives, he was going to kick up as much of a stink as he could.
Second, and by far the easiest to believe – “brute”, “leery, bullying side”, “open hostility”. You only have to look at the below to see that.
And just in case you think that I’m a COMPLETE prude, yeah, I laughed, too. It’s funny. I don’t have a great amount of sympathy for the guy, either – he probably doesn’t even want any. When you run naked onto the ‘Gabba in front of 40,000 people, you get all that you deserve. But all that said, it’s assault, isn’t it? I’m sure you wouldn’t find it anywhere in the players’ manual. The manner in which Symonds took that guy out smacks of exactly the sort of aggressive behaviour to which Brown refers. If he’s prepared to do that and nonchalantly lean on his bat like it’s all in a day’s work when he’s stone cold sober, imagine what he’s like with a few beers in him.
And finally, Monkeygate. What a can of worms that was! A real watershed moment – it even made the normally football-mad British tabloids sit up and take notice. I was actually at the game that day – not that I noticed it happen. I was probably at the bar.
Is this relevant to today’s situation? Brown obviously thinks it is. Cricinfo thinks it is. Just about every news story you come across mentions it. I suppose it must be – surely he wouldn’t be to all intents and purposes ruling himself out of the tour to India just because he’s been disciplined for missing a team meeting. Has he been betrayed, though? At the end of the day, no-one could prove anything! He and his mates got their day in court, it was his word against Harbhajan’s, and the ICC’s John Hansen ruled that the case couldn’t be proven. Surely Cricket Australia had done all they could to make sure that justice was done. There wasn’t much they COULD have done - it was out of their hands after all, and the BCCI’s posturing about calling off the tour was nothing more than that in my book and had nothing to do with Hansen’s ruling.
Does this not support the first point, then? If Symonds is still ticked off about Monkeygate, nine months on and after a full tour of the West Indies, surely this is sulking at its best? Was he genuinely waiting for his next disciplinary infringement before he showed the world how hard-done by he was? Is this not complete opportunism by that token?
I’ve worked with people like that. In any team, there are people that are prepared to take the rough with the smooth, and there are those that are not, and throw the toys out of the pram and scream “conspiracy!” at the slightest hint of injustice. Good management and communication are important at those times, but in an administration that seems outwardly as well-run as Cricket Australia, I can’t imagine that they didn’t go out of their way to talk to Symonds about the events after the Sydney Test and make sure that he wasn’t feeling too disenfranchised. After that it’s up to Symonds – and he might win a few cheap points with his fan-base and the more populist media by going into this hole that he’s put himself in, but he’s not fooling me, and I very much doubt that he’s fooling the Australian team, either.
As far as I’m concerned, just for the moment, they’re better off without him.