Vale Andrew Symonds: Cricket’s supreme athlete; life’s great guy

WORDS: Adam Hollioake PHOTOGRAPHY Getty Images

Former English cricket star, mixed martial artist and professional boxer Adam Hollioake sadly reflects on the life of another legendary opponent turned friend – the late, great Andrew ‘Roy’ Symonds.

Adam Hollioake – ex-captain of the English one day side – Sports Journalist

When I was approached by The Editor Brian Usher to write for Ocean Road I was asked to write on any newsworthy and interesting topics but potentially focusing on sport (possibly due to my background in sport).

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 27: Former Australian cricketers Adam Gilchrist and Darren Lehmann speak during the public memorial service for Andrew Symonds at Riverway Stadium on May 27, 2022 in Townsville, Australia. Former Australian cricketer, Andrew Symonds passed away after a car accident on May 14th. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Such has been the loss to Australian cricket recently my lifestyle column is slowly turning into an obituary for fallen Australian cricketers. In the space of 18 months, Australia has lost four of its biggest stars in Dean Jones, Rod Marsh, Shane Warne and now Andrew Symonds.

UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 02: Cricket England tour of Australia Queensland v England Brisbane 2/11/2002 1st day ANDREW SYMONDS / QUEENSLAND (Photo by David Munden/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

I first came across Andrew Symonds in 1995 when he made his first-class debut for Gloucestershire against Surrey (my team) at The Oval. We were both very young and it was fair to say we didn’t see eye to eye at the beginning.

The first thing that sprung to mind was that he was a very confident, aggressive and talented young man (even though I didn’t want to admit that at the time). The thing that stood out to me from that game was his sheer physical presence. It was clear that this was a young man with immense athleticism. Cricket is a sport that doesn’t always give people an indication of athleticism. Symo had a way of taking advantage of his physical advantages and his athleticism was clear for everyone to see.

23 Aug 1999: Andrew Symonds of Australia, is congratulted by team mates after taking the wicket of of Rahul Dravid of India, Symonds first One-day International wicket, during the one day international between India and Australia played at Galle International Stadium, Galle, Sri Lanka. Mandatory Credit: Hamish Blair/ALLSPORT

I heard someone suggest recently that he was potentially the greatest athlete that has ever played the game of cricket. The fact that I haven’t heard one person challenge this statement is an indication that it was a fair statement.

He was fearless on and off the field and I saw this on several occasions. In fact, on the very first day I met him, his fearlessness was on display. We had a talented young spinner playing one of the first few games of his career. Symo took a liking to him and early on in his innings hit the young spinner over mid-off’s head for four. I was captain in the game and decided that Symo had been lucky, so I left the mid-off up in an attempt to invite him to do the same thing again and hopefully get his wicket.

BRISBANE, QSL – OCTOBER 19: Andrew Symonds of the Bulls takes the first wicket of the second innings during day three of the Pura Cup match between the Queensland Bulls and Tasmanian Tigers at the Gabba on October 19, 2005 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Well, Symo didn’t need a second invitation and accepted my challenge the next ball and proved that he was indeed not lucky with his first shot as he hit the exact same shot for another four. After a few more of these shots I decided we needed to prevent Symo from doing this again, as it was damaging our young spinner’s confidence. The only tactic available was to push the mid-off and mid-on back to the boundary and thus make it impossible for him to play that shot.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 28: Andrew Symonds of Australia celebrates taking the wicket of Mark Boucher LBW for 23 during day three of the Second Test between Australia and South Africa played at the M.C.G. December 28, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for our young bowler, me pushing the fielder back to the boundary only served as a greater challenge for Roy and he soon started depositing balls into the work site at the Vauxhall end of the ground. Surrey had demolished the old stand and were doing earthworks in large HGVs as they developed the new OCS stand. All in all, Roy hit the ball six times into the worksite that day and each time it happened the foreman had to shut down all the machinery to allow someone to go and retrieve the ball in safety.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 29: Andrew Symonds of Australia celebrates after bowling Jacques Rudolph of South Africa during day four of the Second Test between Australia and South Africa played at the M.C.G. December 29, 2005 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The new stand did go on to be delayed in its opening and me and Roy always joked it was because of the delays he caused that day that prevented us from opening on time.

Symo was totally unique. They broke the mould when they made him. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. He wasn’t one for modern communication, social media or fancy cars. Instead, he liked sitting around conversing and having a beer. He could sit in silence and fish or crab for hours on end yet when he came to life, he could be the life of the party. He was the unwilling rock star. At his height, he was the most recognisable cricketer in Australia yet despite being so popular and charismatic, he shied away from stardom.

BRISBANE, QSL – FEBRUARY 14: Andrew Symonds of Australia slides past the stumps in an unsuccessful attempt to run out Mahela Jayawardene of Sri Lanka during the 3rd Final of the VB Series between Australia and Sri Lanka played at the Gabba on February 14, 2006 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

He had a unique way of thinking. I would say it was out of the box but not because of any complexity. I would say it was more often big-picture thinking. He wasn’t one for trying to come up with complicated ways to try to make himself feel important or seem smart. He was one for getting the job done in the most fuss-free way he could think of. Sometimes that came across as basic but it was incredibly refreshing to be around.

Away from cricket, he was the same. Never one to chase the trappings of super stardom, you wouldn’t find Symo taking selfies or trying to impress people. He was more the understated type. He was the definition of what you see is what you get.

MUMBAI, INDIA – OCTOBER 12: Andrew Symonds of Australia hits a six during a practice one day match between Mumbai and Australia played at Wankhade Stadium on October 12, 2006, in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Our relationship was frosty at the beginning and it was always going to be interesting when we were both selected to play for the rest of the world vs Asia in a game in the UK. The game ended and we both found ourselves at the bar together with the rest of the players from both teams. We hadn’t spoken too much during the day and we had both kept a safe distance from one another. After a couple of drinks, we started talking and exchanging stories. I soon realised that this was a tremendous man and someone who I actually liked. I’ve always been one for speaking my mind and after a few drinks made a statement that silenced the group: “Symo I always thought you were a f**king d***head.” A massive smile came across his face and he replied: “I know … I thought the exact same thing about you!!!”

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 14: Andrew Symonds of the Bulls balls during day three of the Pura Cup match between the Western Australia Warriors and the Queensland Bulls at the WACA November 14, 2006 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

We both cracked up laughing and sat around drinking for hours. At the end of the night, somehow, we had arranged for me to move to Queensland when I returned to live in Australia.

A couple of examples of this simplicity came during the making of Australia’s Greatest Athlete (a TV show I created and produced involving Australia’s best athletes from eight different sports). It was a show that was to be filmed over a week (to appear on TV as though it was filmed over eight weeks). That meant that the athletes would be doing four events a day and would be incredibly busy for the entire day. At 11 pm, before the first day of filming, I received a call from Roy. I don’t think I would’ve answered it if it was anyone else or wasn’t for the fact I knew whatever he was about to ask was going to either be great or really bad (there was never much in between).

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 02: Andrew Symonds of Australia stumbles as he fields off his own bowling during game ten of the Commonwealth Bank One Day International Series between Australia and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground February 02, 2007 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

His deep voice came through my phone. “Smokey…..would it be alright if I brought my dog along?” I was a little lost for words at first and asked: “Are you talking about on to the TV show?”

“Yeah mate,” he replied. I wasn’t sure at first if he was joking so I paused for a bit.

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS – APRIL 28: Andrew Symonds of Australia dives as Dilhara Fernando of Sri Lanka attempts to run him out during the ICC Cricket World Cup Final between Australia and Sri Lanka at the Kensington Oval on April 28, 2007 in Bridgetown, Barbados. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

”Symo … we are filming a TV show.” His reply was so simple: ”So I will take that as a no then. No worries buddy, see you in the morning.” He never mentioned it again and we never discussed it again. It was random but it was typically Roy.

Although he didn’t win Australia’s Greatest Athlete, Roy was one of the highlights of the series with his great one-liners and entertaining personality. In my opinion, he carried an otherwise dull show. Off the back of this, we later went on to film a pilot for a TV show we intended to do together. It was a show that involved everything outback.

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS – APRIL 28: Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden of Australia pose with the ICC World Cup trophy after the ICC Cricket World Cup Final between Australia and Sri Lanka at the Kensington Oval on April 28, 2007 in Bridgetown, Barbados. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

The show was to highlight Roy and myself doing things including crabbing, fishing, pigging and croc wrestling. We filmed a pilot in the estuaries of the Gold Coast. We decided that we should do something low-risk to start off and we agreed maybe crabbing would be a good start and the perfect thing to show the networks. Symo, in his typical dry and matter-of-fact manner, stated it wouldn’t be good risk vs reward to croc wrestle for the pilot as it would be hard for either of us to get a TV show up and running with limbs missing.

Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds gestures to his teammates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the sixth One-day International match between India and Australia at the Vidarbha Cricket Stadium in Nagpur, 14 October 2007. Australia are currently 311 runs for the loss of six wickets after electing to bat first. Australia leads the seven match ODI series 3-1, with the first match abandoned by rain. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent years, I have been doing some consultancy coaching at Queensland Cricket (long after the Andrew Symonds era) and still, the infamous stories of Roy are circulating. His relationship with some of the Queensland players is infamous and the story of him and Matthew Hayden swimming through shark-infested waters after their boat caught fire and they had to abandon it is world-famous in cricketing circles. All of these things highlight the difference between him and the modern-day cricketer (well for that matter, any other cricketer).

Australia’s Andrew Symonds celebrates the wicket of India’s captain Anil Kumble during day three of the third Test match between India and Australia at WACA stadium in Perth, 18 January 2008. India currently bats at 245 for loss of 8 wickets, leading Australia by 363 runs with 2 wickets remaining in its second inings. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE PUSH TO MOBILE SERVICES OUT. AFP PHOTO/ Prakash SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)

Roy was unique and irreplaceable. We will never see anyone like him again. There will always be great cricketers in every era but I know there will never be anyone like Roy. He was his own man and lived life his way.

Over time, people forget batting averages or how much money someone made or the material possessions they collected. But people will always remember the impression Andrew Symonds made on them.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 21: The Cowboys stand in a huddle to remember former cricketer Andrew Symonds during the round 11 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Melbourne Storm at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on May 21, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Rest in power my friend. Energy never dies. It can only transfer.