andrew-symonds
Illustration- Vasim Maner

Andrew Symonds is remembered as a dangerous middle-order batsman who produced some breathtaking knocks in ODI cricket, did not realize even half his potential in Test cricket and then faded away into oblivion dogged by controversies and disciplinary issues.

His conventional numbers in ODI cricket – an aggregate of 5088 runs at a batting average of approximately 40 with a strike rate of 92 – support this notion and suggest that Symonds was a ‘very good’ ODI batsman. But ‘very good’ and no more.

Now comes the shocker.

Despite 22 other batsmen with a higher batting average (min. 60 innings), Symonds emerges as the second-highest impact ODI batsman in the world (after Adam Gilchrist) during his career (November 1998 to May 2009). This means he was a higher impact batsman than Sachin Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden, Kevin Pietersen, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Michael Hussey, Michael Bevan, MS Dhoni, Ricky Ponting and Mark Waugh (all with a higher batting average) during his career.

It gets better.

Overall in ODI cricket, 73 batsmen have a higher career aggregate and 27 amongst these a higher batting average than Symonds. Even through the Impact prism, more than 90 batsmen have scored a higher proportion of runs ( Runs Tally Impact ) than Symonds in their careers.

Despite this, Symonds emerges as the eleventh-highest impact batsman in ODI cricket history – higher impact than Ponting, Hayden, Dhoni, Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara and Javed Miandad amongst others. Being a genuine all-rounder (a support bowler whose batting had more than double the impact of his bowling) makes this feat even more special.

What is that sole quality in Symonds’ batting that he finds a place amongst the pantheon of all-time greats?

It was his ability to rise to the occasion and perform in the big-matches – more often than the other great players of the world-beating Australian team he was a part of.

In fact, no other player (except Gilchrist) won as many series/tournaments for Australia as Symonds did during his career (1998 to 2009).

A SENSATIONAL BIG-MATCH BATSMAN

Symonds produced 8 series/ tournament-defining performances ( SD /TD) with the bat in just 161 (156 of these completed) ODI innings. Only Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya and Gilchrist (11 each) and Richards (9) have produced more SDs/TDs in ODI cricket with the bat than Symonds. Sangakkara and AB de Villiers also have 8 such performances apiece but in more number of matches.

In fact, it is astonishing that Symonds’ frequency of producing an SD /TD is the second-best for any batsman in ODI history after Vivian Richards (who produced an SD /TD every 18 innings).

This makes Symonds a great big-match player.

Symonds batted at the number 5 position for the majority of his career (96 out of 161 innings). Seven of his eight SDs/TDs have come from this position. In fact he is the highest impact number 5 batsman in ODI cricket history (min. 60 innings), ahead of names like Yuvraj Singh, Chris Cairns, Steve Waugh, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Azharuddin. Coupled with his big-match prowess was his high Strike Rate Impact (scoring rate relative to match standard) – only five batsmen with a higher Runs Tally Impact are better than him in this regard – this made Symonds a dangerous middle-order batsman capable of turning a match on its head with his powerful hitting and he had a knack of doing so on the biggest stage in the knockout matches.

But Symonds did not have a great start to his ODI career. He was not even amongst the 60 highest impact batsmen in the world (min. 30 innings) from his debut till early 2003. He had just two high impact performances from 38 innings in this period in 18 of which he batted at number 7 and below.

Then came the transformation.

THE HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMAN IN THE WORLD DURING AUSTRALIA’S GREAT DOMINANCE

ICC World Cup, 2003:

Australia vs Pakistan, Johannesburg: Symonds walks out to bat at 86 for 4 and smashes an unbeaten 143 in just 125 deliveries. He bats brilliantly with the lower order helping Australia amass 310. Pakistan are bowled out for 228.

This innings changes Symonds’ ODI career.

Australia vs Sri Lanka, Semi-Final, Port Elizabeth: Symonds walks out to bat, again, in a pressure situation at 51 for 3. He scores an unbeaten 91 in 118 balls to help Australia post 212 on the board. The bowlers restrict Sri Lanka to 123 in a rain-reduced match.

This performance brings to the fore, for the first time, the big-match player in Symonds – a quality that would define him for the rest of his career. He produces his first TD as Australia go on to win their second successive World Cup.

Symonds was the highest impact batsman in the world (min. 30 ODIs) from here on for a period of 5 years – between February 2003 and December 2007. He played 106 of his 161 innings in this period.

This means that for 66%, ie two-thirds of his career, Symonds was the highest impact batsman in the world.

Interestingly, a majority of his innings – 92 – came from the number 5 position or above suggesting that batting up the order gave Symonds more opportunities to express himself and define the game.

He went on to produce 7 more SDs/TDs in this period.

VB Series, 2nd Final vs India, SCG, 2004: Symonds smashes 66 in 39 balls. Australia 359 for 5. India 151 all out. Australia win by 208 runs.

Videocon Cup, Final vs Pakistan, Amstelveen, 2004: In a low-scoring match, Symonds contributes 36 in 41 balls. Australia 192 for 7. Pakistan 175 all out.

VB Series, 1st Final vs Pakistan, MCG, 2005: Coming in at 53 for 3, Symonds top- scores with 91 in 101 balls. Pakistan fall 18 short of Australia’s 237.

VB Series, 2nd Final vs Sri Lanka, SCG, 2006: Coming in at 10 for 3, Symonds puts together a double-century stand with Ponting and hammers 151 in 127 balls. Australia amass 368. Sri Lanka are bowled out for 201.

DLF Cup, Final vs West Indies, Kuala Lumpur, 2006: Coming in at 80 for 3, Symonds notches up 52 in 59 balls. West Indies are dismantled for 113 in reply to Australia’s 240.

ICC Champions Trophy, 1st semi-final vs New Zealand, Mohali, 2006: Symonds scores a run-a-ball 58 from 123 for 4. Australia post 240. New Zealand are bowled out for 206.

Australia in India, 2007:

2nd ODI, Kochi: 87 in 83 balls (from 66 for 3). Australia win by 184 runs.

3rd ODI, Hyderabad: 89 in 67 balls. Australia win by 47 runs.

5th ODI, Nagpur: 107 not out in 88 balls. Australia win by 18 runs.

Australia won the seven-match series 4-2 and Symonds earned an SD for consistently delivering high impact performances. He was not only the highest impact batsman but also the highest impact player of the series.

Australia were by far the best ODI team in the world during Symonds’ career (1998 to 2009). Their dominance reached zenith in the period Symonds was the highest impact batsman in the world (2003 to 2007), winning 21 of the 27 series/tournaments they played including two World Cup victories.

No batsman or player won as many series/tournaments for his team as Symonds did for Australia in this time-frame. For Symonds to be the biggest series-winner in a team of world-beaters (where he would have to share his impact with the likes of Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist, Martyn amongst others) during this period when they dominated world cricket was a phenomenal achievement.

SYMONDS IS THE FOURTH-HIGHEST IMPACT BATSMAN IN AUSTRALIA’S ODI HISTORY

Symonds is the fourth-highest impact batsman in Australia’s illustrious ODI history after Dean Jones, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Bevan. This is no mean achievement. Australia have unarguably been the greatest ODI side ever with five World Cup wins and the best win-loss ratio in ODI cricket. His Batting Impact is marginally higher than Ponting’s, who follows next on this list.

The only reason why Symonds emerges as a higher impact batsman than Ponting is because he was a more emphatic big-match player. Symonds had 8 Batting SDs in 161 innings. Ponting had 1 less (7) in more than double (365) the innings.

Being a genuine all-rounder, Symonds also emerges as the ninth-highest impact player in Australia’s ODI history.

AN UNFORTUNATE END

Symonds’ misadventures off the field often landed him in trouble even during the peak of his career. Post the infamous Monkey-Gate incident in Sydney in January 2008, during which he felt the Austrian Cricket Board let him down, his behavior and discipline worsened and his career went spiraling down. He had a failure rate of 63% in 16 more innings with the bat for Australia, the last of which was in May 2009. A spectacular downfall from which Symonds could not quite recover.

It is tragic and a symptom of the times we live in that Symonds is mostly remembered today as a maverick infamous for his misdemeanors on and off the field. Far from the respect he deserves being an all-time ODI great.
His legacy as the biggest series-winner of one of the greatest ODI teams to have ever played the sport – and in an era they dominated – seems to have been conveniently forgotten.

 

 

Nikhil Narain