Andrew Symonds was a cricketing rebel with a cause.
He had a cause to entertain and enjoy himself but also an ability to hit the self-destruct button.
Symonds, who died in a car crash in north Queensland on Saturday night aged 46, was hard to miss on a cricket field.
Wearing zinc cream on his lips, sporting dreadlocked black hair and a rugby league player’s build, the laidback Queenslander who flirted with a switch to the Brisbane Broncos in 2002 was brilliant with bat, ball or in the field and a genuine match winner.
But controversy – much of it self-afflicted – was never too far away.
Symonds found himself in the middle of a massive international sporting incident in 2008 after accusing Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh of calling him a “monkey” during a fractious Sydney Test.
Australian teammates Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were all called to give evidence in an explosive hearing into the incident.
Singh and the Indian camp vehemently denied the slur, saying the bowler had used a Hindi insult not racist in nature, and were incensed when a three-match ban was handed down.
With the backing of the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in Indian (BCCI), the tourists threatened to pull out of the tour as relations between the two countries hit an all-time low.
The suspension was subsequently overturned, with Singh’s punishment reduced to a fine.
Symonds felt let down by the whole process and pinpoints the incident as the beginning of the end of his career, later revealing his life spiralled out of control.
“I suppose this would be the moment where my whole persona to cricket changed,” Symonds told Fox Cricket on the 10th anniversary of Monkeygate.
“I didn’t realise the politics, the power, the money until this moment in my career.
“I didn’t realise how powerful one player, one incident (could be), how much money was at stake and the ramifications.
“I went downhill pretty fast after this because I felt responsible for four of my mates – close mates – that I dragged into this whole situation and it (weighed) very heavily on me.
“I started drinking way too much and my cricket, my mindset … I started to go downhill. I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”
Symonds was no stranger to brushes with cricket officialdom, his refusal to conform to tight team policies and regulations landing him in trouble more than once.
Also in 2008, the outdoors-loving Queenslander was famously sent home from an Australian camp in Darwin after choosing a fishing expedition over a team meeting.
Stand-in captain Clarke said at the time: “The main concern from us is Andrew’s commitment, to playing for this team and, in my opinion and I know the rest of the leadership team’s opinion, you need to be committed 100 per cent.”
Two months later Symonds was back in the news for all the wrong reasons, reprimanded for being involved in an incident at a Brisbane hotel after a night out with members of the Australian rugby league team.
He was cleared of any wrongdoing but apologised for his role.
Despite his building CV of indiscretions, Australian cricket refused to give up on the gifted all-rounder.
Symonds was selected for the 2009 T20 World Cup in England but didn’t play a game, sent home for an “alcohol-related” incident on the eve of the tournament.
He had been out at a bar, without permission, celebrating Queensland’s win in a State of Origin match.
Fed-up by his antics, Cricket Australia cut Symonds from its list of contracted players and an international career pockmarked by both brilliance and belligerence was at its end.
“I do go out hard and drink all in one hit – too fast, too much,” he told 60 Minutes, denying he was an alcoholic but admitting to being a “binge drinker”.
But for all his waywardness off the field, Symonds will rightly be remembered for his on-field flair, aggression, flamboyance and capabilities with bat and ball.
Born with Afro-Caribbean bloodlines after being adopted as a baby by an Australian couple, he could easily have fitted into the West Indies sides of the 70s and 80s due to his cool demeanour, swagger and on-field presence.
He may have been hard to handle outside playing hours, but every Australian captain wanted Symonds in his team for his ability to alter a match with his explosive batting, an outrageous piece of fielding or his under-rated medium pace and spin bowling.
Statistics tell some of the story, his 26 Tests yielding 1462 runs at 40.61 and 24 wickets.
It was with the white ball Symonds felt most at home, smashing 5088 runs and taking 133 wickets in 198 ODIs.
He played a key role in Australia’s successful 2003 and 2007 World Cup campaigns, rising to the occasion whenever his team was in trouble and needing a lift.
Symonds was a genuine match-winner and a crowd favourite, making headlines around the world after flattening a streaker with a shoulder charge at the Gabba in 2008.
“We were playing India in a final and that night Australia was doing it tough and there was a couple of overweight Queensland policeman not catching up with that man as they probably should have,” he recalled.
“So I took the law into my own hands for a brief moment there and he failed to keep moving.”
Andrew Symonds loved cricket but loved life even more.
It was a life sadly cut short late on Saturday night when Symonds’ car overturned after leaving a road 50km out of Townsville.
He is survived by wife Laura and two children, Chloe and Billy.