By David O’Neill
Andrew Symonds was sensationally sent home on the eve of the Twenty20 World Cup last week, for indiscretions that still remain somewhat unclear.
Cricket Australia’s Chief Executive James Sutherland refused to go in to depth about the incidents, describing them only as “alcohol related”, which occurred before, during or after a player function held at the Royal Gardens Hotel in Kensington last Wednesday night, which Australian Times attended.
Despite the rumours in the home-grown press, we can report it was all smiles and laughter at the function. Symonds and the rest of the Australian team were in a jovial mood, mingling with those in attendance and speaking candidly about their chances in the tournament and this summer’s Ashes series.
However, it turned out to be the last laugh for the supremely talented Symonds. He was sent packing early the next morning, his international career now almost certainly over. We understand there was not one major incident but a series of dramas throughout the week that showed disregard for the leadership and desired attitude of the team.
Wednesday, the day and night in question, maybe his last as an Australian player, saw him join team mates mid morning to watch the State of Origin Rugby League contest. It is alleged Symonds may have enjoyed a few drinks watching the match; strictly forbidden under his ‘individual’ code of behaviour.
When the players arrived for the function at the Royal Gardens, though, there was nothing to indicate that controversy was about to explode. In fact, good spirits were evident throughout the entire Australian team. Symonds played up to the mostly English crowd when introduced; walking as if he had robotic arms and legs before warmly greeting the guest on his designated table.
We can confirm there were alcoholic drinks available on the tables and it’s most likely Symonds joined other team mates in sampling a glass of wine during dinner. We can also confirm that he most certainly did not appear intoxicated when the players left at 11 PM. What we cannot attest to is what occurred beyond that. Did anything of significance?
The decision to send Symonds home, ending the highly popular character’s tour and perhaps his international career, was made early Thursday morning by the leadership group which includes: captain — Ricky Ponting, vice captain — Michael Clark, and coach — Tim Nielson.
“There’s no doubting Andrew’s capabilities as a player, but there are other things happening around him that made the decision we’ve come to a relatively easy one,” said Ponting. “This is not wholly and solely about Andrew Symonds. This is about the Australian cricket team. We’ve got some young guys who are just finding out what international cricket is all about. This is about the bigger picture and bringing on the next generation of Australian players.”
Ponting, who knows a thing or two about drunken indiscretions, had clearly thought carefully about his remarks. He hid for the most part the personal disappointment he must surely have felt after continually supporting the troubled all rounder. From what we saw, the two, even as late as Thursday night, appeared close companions, sharing a joke when the team posed for a photo with guests at the PCA function.
Both Symonds and his captain exchanged remarks with a woman who, amazingly, questioned which country the cricketers were from, making comments that had the entire playing group laughing and giving the impression of a close nit team. The decision on Thursday morning to send Symonds home must have been incredibly hard to make and weighed heavily on the captain’s mind.
Though extraordinarily close to the beginning of the tournament, such a decision is not unprecedented. Shane Warne suffered a similar fate on the eve of the 2003 limited overs World Cup. Symonds indiscretion seems minor compared to that of the champion leg spinner who tested positive to a banned substance, though neither has a history to be proud of.
Symonds almost had his contract ripped up in 2005 when he turned up drunk for a one-dayer against Bangladesh. He was banned for two matches but some board members wanted him sacked and former chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns campaigned to have him sent home back at the time.
The champion all-rounder has rarely been out of hot water since, making headlines last year after going fishing instead of attending team training.
When members of the Australian team fronted the media at a pre-arranged public appearance on Thursday afternoon, the questions of course centred on the developing controversy. “He’s a great bloke, a great player and he’s definitely going to be missed” said Brett Lee, who was sure to tow the party line.
Despite the players refusal to offer the press any quotes that could further disrupt preparations, fast bowler Nathan Bracken did add that “He would hate to be in the leadership group’s position”.
No matter how much sway Ponting holds in the dressing room, one must wonder if any factions of the team will silently stay loyal with Symonds and slowly split team unity. Only time and results will tell just how severe the impact of this controversy will be.