By Peter Della Penna
Another chapter was added to the woeful tale of Andrew Symonds on Thursday when the mercurial allrounder was jettisoned out of Australia's ICC World Twenty20 squad, and presumably out of international cricket for good, for a team rules violation. This certainly looks like deja vu from the start of Australia's Ashes tour in 2005 when Symonds was suspended after an all-nighter in Cardiff before their famous ODI loss to Bangladesh.
Symonds certainly has himself to blame for these incidents that keep happening. He is a lightning rod, but unlike Shane Warne, who seemed to be able to draw inspiration from his indiscretions and generally had a large amount of slack from Australia's board, Symonds has not received the same kind of support. There has been a series of disciplinary issues over the past year: a fight with Michael Clarke on the tour of the West Indies, a fishing trip in Darwin, a radio interview comment about Brendon McCullum. All of these could have been avoided. However, Symondsâ€™ fate was forever altered from the fallout of the Sydney Test against India in January of 2008.
After Symonds struggled through the first 11 Tests of his career, his coming-of-age 156 in the Boxing Day Test against England in 2006 cemented his spot in the team. Five Tests and just over a year later, Symonds was batting against India in the New Year's Test of 2008. After edging one behind early in his innings on the first day of play, Symonds stood his ground, as was his right, and was given not out by umpire Steve Bucknor. After the first day's play, Symonds admitted to Channel Nine he knew he had "smashed" the ball in question. Instead of being labeled honest, he was a cheater, one who had plundered Indiaâ€™s frustrated attack to finish 162*. Of course, this was minor compared to what was being discussed by the end of the match.
Harbhajan Singh was brought before match referee Mike Proctor and charged with racially abusing Symonds. After initially being suspended for three Tests, the BCCI pulled out all the stops to ensure Harbhajan was cleared, including at one point allegedly having a plane on standby in Adelaide to take the team back to India and abandon the tour if the suspension was not overturned.
Meanwhile, eyebrows were raised towards Australia about several issues stemming from this Test. Michael Clarke's masterstroke of three wickets in one over to finish the match, a record-tying 16th straight victory for Australia, was lost in the shuffle as members of the media, Peter Roebuck foremost among them, lambasted Australia's behavior on the final day. At the top of the list was Ricky Ponting's attempt to claim a bat-pad catch and Adam Gilchrist successfully appealing for Rahul Dravid's caught-behind dismissal from the spin of Symonds, given out by Bucknor, even though Dravid missed the ball by a healthy margin.
Less than two months before, Sri Lanka was robbed in Hobart when Kumar Sangakkara was wrongly given out on 192 by Rudi Koertzen, just as the classy batsman seemed poised to lead his side to a new world record chase of 507 against Australia. No one made a peep then when Ponting ran in from the slips and desperately appealed for a catch that lobbed off Sangakkara's shoulder and helmet. There's a big difference though when a hue and cry of injustice is raised by a country of 20 million people compared to one with a population over one billion.
And so India and the BCCI rallied behind their Bhajji. Symonds though, was left naked by Cricket Australia. Once the threat of boycotting the tour and the lawsuits that might arise from India's broadcasters were mentioned, Cricket Australia, led by CEO James Sutherland, wilted under the pressure.
It is hard to imagine this happening in American sports, or American society for that matter. If a black athlete was allegedly victimized in the way that Andrew Symonds was, that player's team conceivably would stand by that player 100 percent, no matter how many dollar signs are being waved back in intimidating fashion. Before long, activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would start rallying support behind him and call for Harbhajan to be banned indefinitely because racial vilification is unacceptable. However, this did not happen in America.
In Australia, Sutherland spinelessly brokered a compromise to have Harbhajan's charge downgraded from racism to abusive language which appeased the BCCI. Instead of being suspended for three Tests, he was fined half his match fee.
No one will ever know who was right, who was wrong and what was actually said on the field in this turbulent affair, and it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the BCCI, and virtually the whole of India, unequivocally stood behind Harbhajan. In some places, people believed Symonds got what he deserved after having a go at Harbhajan for giving a tap with his bat to Brett Lee. This viewpoint was a long way from the unconditional support that Symonds needed from all of Australia, but unfortunately didn't receive. Clearly, his psyche was shattered and he has been unable to piece it back together.
In the 18 months since, Symonds has seemed intent on turning his back on the establishment and he has embarked on a pattern of reckless behavior. Although a different spin was put out by Cricket Australia, a major reason for his omission from the tour of India late in 2008 and the tour of South Africa early in 2009 had to be the fact that Cricket Australia could not trust him to make it through a tour without causing some more controversy by bringing negative attention to himself and to the team. They also had leverage that previously didnâ€™t exist in the form of a healthy Shane Watson and a squeaky clean Andrew McDonald.
Symonds could care less. Since that Sydney Test, he has demonstrated that he feels he owes nothing to Cricket Australia. At a press conference on Thursday, Ricky Ponting said, "He has let himself down, let all his teammates down," before continuing, "and Cricket Australia down." That might be true now, but the reality is that Cricket Australia let him down so much more and in the worst way possible back in January of 2008. How might his fortunes have changed if they had stood by him in that moment of need?
(Peter Della Penna can be contacted through Twitter @DPMilGaya.)