Cricket money: The day that changed Symonds’ career
It was the Test match everything changed for Andrew Symonds.
After years of fighting for a consistent spot in the Australian Test side, Symonds was at the peak of his powers.
The burly Aussie all-rounder blasted a stunning unbeaten 162 across the first two days of the 2008 SCG Test as Australia scored 463.
India was up to the challenge and overtook Australia’s score on the third day. It was that day tensions boiled over with one of the most spiteful encounters in cricket history and the beginning of the darkest time in Symond’s life.
An altercation with Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who Symonds alleged called him a “monkey”, caused an international storm and prompted India to threaten to quit its tour of Australia.
Speaking to Adam Gilchrist in an interview for the Fox Cricket documentary “Monkeygate – Ten Years On” set to air after the fourth day of the Perth Test on Monday – available on Kayo Sports live and delayed – Symonds said the “Monkeygate” scandal and its fallout changed everything for him.
“I suppose this would be the moment where my whole persona to cricket changed,” Symonds said in a preview of the one of the teasers.
“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, how much money was at stake and the ramifications.”
The aftermath was stunning for Symonds, who felt let down by a lack of support from Cricket Australia.
Symonds said CA begged him to downgrade the charge of racial vilification against Singh concerned they would miss out on millions of dollars if India pulled out of the tour.
Singh’s original three-match ban was then overturned on appeal.
But Symonds was more concerned about his teammates.
Hayden, Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist all heard Singh call him a “monkey” and then Ricky Ponting made an official complaint.
It led Symonds down a dark path and into a battle with alcohol.
“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 beared very heavily on me,” he said.
“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.”
The name calling had reportedly been going on for some time.
Speaking to Fox Sports and Triple M commentator Mark Howard in an episode of his podcast The Howie Games last month, Symonds revealed he’d taken Harbhajan aside in the ODI series before in India.
“I’d spoken to Harbhajan the (ODI) series before in India, he’d called me a monkey before in India,” Symonds told Howard.
“I went into their dressing room and said, ‘Can I speak to Harbhajan for a minute outside please?’
“So he came outside and I said, ‘Look, the name calling’s got to stop or else it’s going to get out of hand. We’ve got a few names for you blokes and you’ve obviously got a few names for us and that’s all good but it’s going to end in tears so let’s knock it on the head.’
“So we shook hands and he said, ‘No problem boss, all good.'”
Less than a year later, Symonds would play his last Test for Australia on Boxing Day 2008, before the end of his international career in May 2009.
However, it wasn’t the end of the story.
The pair were reunited in the IPL when both were picked up by the Mumbai Indians in 2011.
“When I first arrived there was deafening silence in the dressing shed when I walked in. There was an elephant in the corner. You could feel it,” Symonds said.
“He’d call me boss because the tension was definitely there and I was trying to alleviate that tension desperately for the sake of the side.
“We go to a very wealthy man’s place for a barbecue, drinks and dinner one night and the whole team’s there and he had guests there, and Harbhajan said ‘mate, can I speak to you for a minute?”
The pair were able to “bury the hatchet” with Symonds forgiving the Indian offspinner.
“I said to him ‘it wasn’t your fault or my fault, it was the way it was all handled’, and after that you could see that it was a weight off his shoulders,” he said.
For the full story, tune in to Fox Cricket on Kayo Sports following day four of the second Test on Monday.
Kayo Sports also offers a Hindi commentary option led by Sunil Gavaskar and Harbhajan Singh.