Friday, 5 June 2009

Symonds: a man disfavoured

Its little over 24 hours now, since Andrew Symonds was sent back home for his latest transgression. The Chief Executive of Cricket Australia (CA), James Sutherland, expressed his disappointment in and for Symonds. The latest blow could well mark the end of Symonds' somewhat tempestuous career.

And yet looking at all that at hindsight, I can't help feeling that Symonds has been an unfortunate man. I'm not making a case for him- I am myself no admirer of the man, but it's hard not to get the feeling that the officials and fellow players who have stood by him all along did Symonds a far greater disfavour than any of his opponents (Harbhajan Singh included).

The number and details of his off field misdeameanours are too widely known to merit repetition, the latest being- ironically- the least of them. Unfortunately for him, his team mates and board officials indulged him for way too long. A lot of transgressions were expediently overlooked, simply because he was too valuable a player to be lost. To put it bluntly, his team mates and the officials at CA were more concerned about Symonds' ability to win games than his personal welfare.

The tipping point came perhaps in the aftermath of monkeygate. We all know what happened: Symonds felt upset at being called a 'monkey', which is apparently a huge insult for people of African origin (I cannot really claim to appreciate it- there are effectively no Africans in India) and pressed for charges or racial abuse. His teammates backed him and Cricket Australia, ever too keen on indulging its perennial problem child, duly obliged.

Viewing the facts superficially, Symonds had a every reason to be offended. However, one important fact that was conveniently forgotten was that Andrew Symonds had gone out of his way, completely unprovoked, to abuse an opposing player who was known to be a hot-head. Australians perhaps did not realise that unprovoked abuse is considered extremely insulting in Indian culture. Whatever the truth, the fact of the matter is that the Australian players and board administrators went all out to indulge the ego of a man who had provoked the entire unfortunate incident in the first place. What did they convey thereby? That anything he did was fine by them, isn't it? After all, Cricket Australia had overlooked far bigger transgressions than that.

The sequence of events that followed swiftly unfolded: the BCCI used its financial muscle to ensure that a valuable player was not lost. For all the controversy that the BCCI's actions generated, it would be worth remembering that, like its Australian counterpart, it too stood by a valuable player and one who if not exactly innocent, was by no means the instigator of the incident. In essence, the BCCI did pretty much what CA did- and its hard not to get the feeling that the outcome of the entire episode would have been a lot different had it happened twenty years back.

The damage it did to Symonds was incalculable and understandably so. The problem man who had always had his way around, whose every transgression had hitherto been indulged in suddenly found his employers backing down in the face of what would surely be a massive financial loss had India gone through with the threat of pulling the plug on the tour. Self-interest, the very reason that had so far justified overlooking Symonds' repeated misdemeanours, was now working against him. The blow up that followed in the months that followed if not inevitable, was pretty much a logical end to the entire unfortunate episode. If that wasn't bad enough, before the end of the year CA hastened to recall him when it was pretty clear that Symonds' head was still not quite in the right place.

While a thousand post-mortems will be done and, in the years that follow, hundreds of articles will be written on what might have been, Symonds will remain a striking example of a man who was as much let down by his friends, as he let them down. Had even one of his teammates taken him aside and pointed out his errors, the Symonds story might well have been a lot different.