Andrew Symonds starred against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup
Andrew Symonds starred against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup

‘Could’ve punched him’: The WC masterclass that changed Roy’s life

"I REMEBER David Shepherd coming from the side and saying, 'don't do anything stupid Symmo, don't do anything stupid' and he got between us. I could have punched him. That's how wild I was."

The 'him' Andrew Symonds is speaking of is Waqar Younis, and that alone should tell you the innings he's talking about too. It's the innings that would change his life.

No one expected 'Roy' Symonds to be there that day.

Not even the man himself, who had been speaking to then Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett about the possibility of the boldest of code switches heading into 2003.

Few had expected Steve Waugh not to be there either. After all, he was Australia's World Cup winning captain of 1999 and a bona fide great of the game.

Sixteen years on it's a selection headache Allan Border - Waugh's captain when Australia took it out in 1987 and a part of Trevor Hohns' selection panel in 2003 - still remembers vividly.

"It was a tough period," Border recalled. "Stephen's cricket had just gone off the boil and the one-day side had been playing poorly. As a selector you're starting to get jumpy because we're in the lead-up to 2003 World Cup."

The final decision was made to axe Waugh as ODI captain and from the XI in early 2002 and at the end of the year they doubled down on that decision by leaving him out of the initial 30-man World Cup squad.

Symonds squared off with Waqar Younis at the 2003 World Cup.
Symonds squared off with Waqar Younis at the 2003 World Cup.

"It made it doubly difficult because he was the captain." Border added.

A month after his omission from the 30-man group, Waugh raised his famous last-ball century at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It eased the pressure on the man himself to hold onto his Test spot and put it firmly back on the selectors who had declared his one-day career over.

"There was an unbelievable ground swell of support for Stephen and to get him back in the one-day side," Border explained. "The media were giving us heaps, especially Trevor Hohns as chairman. It was incredible.

"It was just very uncomfortable as a selector. I remember walking out of the SCG one day and I thought I was going to get lynched."

Symonds did not help matters by averaging less than 15 across his four innings in between Waugh's axing and the World Cup.

Few had expected Steve Waugh not to be at the 2003 World Cup.
Few had expected Steve Waugh not to be at the 2003 World Cup.

Having spent his career dropping in and out of the Australian team, Symonds went into 2003 with an ODI average of 25.86, with more ducks (3) than 50+ scores (2) from his 24 innings to date. It got worse too, with the Queenslander making a high score of eight in Australia's final series before the World Cup.

Despite that, he edged out the likes of Greg Blewett, Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey and Cameron White - as well as Waugh of course - to make the final squad.

"I was embarrassed because I looked around and sort of thought he could have gone instead of me and so could he," Symonds recalled.

"He wasn't a runaway best seller but we could see his potential, and what he could bring to the side," Border said.

"It was a gut feel selection and a big gut feel to leave out one of our greatest ever players for a guy who wasn't a runaway best seller at the time, but had something about him."

Importantly, the selectors were not the only ones who could see it, with young captain Ponting backing the Queenslander to the hilt.

Few men had as much of an impact on Symonds' career as Ponting, and the skipper was integral to bringing him into the inner circle of Australian cricket, making sure he knew he had earned his spot.

"I remember being told by 'Punter' 'you're good enough to be in this team otherwise you wouldn't be here, so make sure you get your work done because we're going to need you out there to do your bit'," Symonds recalled.

It proved a prophetic statement. With Michael Bevan still recovering from a groin injury and Darren Lehmann serving the remainder of a suspension, Symonds and fellow Queenslander Jimmy Maher would both be needed for Australia's first match of the tournament against Pakistan. And in a huge surprise, so would Brad Hogg.

Few men had as much of an impact on Symonds’ career as Ricky Ponting
Few men had as much of an impact on Symonds’ career as Ricky Ponting

Just two day outs from the World Cup, the tournament - Australia in particular - was rocked. Shane Warne was going home after testing positive for a banned substance.

All of a sudden, the Australians seemed mortal.

"You could just sense around the place that everyone thought, we can topple them here," Symonds explained. "Bevan being out, Boof being out, that sort of stuff. Other teams sensed that this was the time they could pick us off."

Fast forward 16 overs into Australia's opening match against Pakistan and it well and truly did look like the World Cup champions were there for the taking. Wasim Akram had accounted for all three of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn in his opening spell and Younis took the edge of Maher. Australia was 4-86 and the next man in?

"We're about 4-80 and in walks Roy," Border recalled. "I thought God, what I'd give for Steve Waugh right now."

The first ball Symonds faced in World Cup cricket was a bouncer from Younis and there would be more to come.

Alongside the man who had backed him into the XI, Symonds rebuilt Australia's innings, putting on 60 runs with Ponting to drag the innings towards 150. There couldn't have been a better man for Symonds to come out to bat alongside than Ponting.

"Ricky was unbelievable for my career," Symonds said. "His support and his belief that put in me. He'd give me little jobs to do and that. I really enjoyed that side of it. He was very easy to play for."

When Ponting fell to Akhtar in the 30th over, an Australian disaster still looked on the cards, with only the part-time batsmen to come. Symonds was still in his 20s and had almost chopped on moments earlier - it seemed a matter of when, not if.

He went on to produce the innings of his life, notching his first century and breaking Mark Waugh's record for the highest score by an Australian at the World Cup. He'd clobber 20 boundaries in total - 18 fours, two sixes - and walk off to a standing ovation unbeaten on 143 with Australia having climbed from a hole at 4-86 to a mountain at 8-310.

Understandably, Border was a relieved man.

"That was it, as a selector, that was our moment of truth, and Roy proved us right. It was a bit of a godsend," Border said.

Symonds produced the innings of his life, notching his first century and breaking Mark Waugh’s record for the highest score by an Australian at the World Cup.
Symonds produced the innings of his life, notching his first century and breaking Mark Waugh’s record for the highest score by an Australian at the World Cup.

Of course, there was more to Symonds' innings than just the numbers and as dominant as he had been, he had not always looked so in control of the situation. In the XI because of a series of unfortunate events for Australia, Symonds almost chopped on for 23. It was another fork in the road in a story full of sliding doors that would conclude in Symonds finishing his ODI career some six years later with an average close to 40 (39.80) across 198 games.

"If I chopped on and then don't get any, I probably don't play any further part in the World Cup because they would have gone back to Bevo and Boof," Symonds mulled. "Failing another injury I'm probably not going to take further part.

"It was a real fork in the road and that I'm grateful for."

At the same time: "I suppose you do make your own luck a bit."

It was unquestionably the pivotal moment in his career and it provided him with the knowhow to go from mercurial talent to integral member.

"If you look back on it that unlocked in my head and to myself how I had to play. It gave me a method and a road map as to how to play a one-day innings. Forever and a day after that, if I ever struck a slump I'd always look back to that innings"

When he raised his ton, with a cut shot for four off the bowling of Shahid Afridi, he was met with raucous applause and a set of beaming faces on the dressing room balcony. He had to re-watch the innings on a DVD before his autobiography, but he'll never forget those faces.

"I could see how happy the boys were for me when I actually made it to a hundred that day. You could see how excited they were for me and pleased for me to be able to do that.

"That showed the type of group that we had and I really appreciated that and I'll never forget that moment."

Gilchrist was on the balcony that day, and what the keeper saw was the long promised maturation of one of the country's most explosive talents.

"We were just so proud of him because there was uncertainty whether he was going to be in the squad," Gilchrist said.

"It was great to see him grow as a player and a person within that innings almost and just take responsibility against an attack of Akram, Younis and Afridi who was bowling really well.

Australia went undefeated to the trophy, with Symonds an integral member.
Australia went undefeated to the trophy, with Symonds an integral member.

"Knowing the type of guy he is, somewhere in the back of his mind he would have wanted to try and repay Ricky's faith and it happened to be the first game of the tournament."

Part of the maturation process involved going head to head with Pakistan captain Younis, who was punted from the attack by umpire Freedman after two beamers to Symonds in the 49th over.

"It was a very dry day," Symonds said. "Johannesburg is dry heat. If it's a sweaty kind of coastal, humid game, I could probably forgive him for sweaty hand or something, but it wasn't a sweaty day at all."

The first beamer, with the first ball of the over, was easy enough to get under, and he did not think too much of it: "oh well, sh*t happens in the bush."

The second, on the fourth ball, was better directed and Symonds did well to avoid it. "An absolutely vicious beamer right on his head," is how Tony Greig described it.

This one, the Australian did not take so well.

"I just went nup, I'm not convinced that that's not deliberate. So I went down and confronted him.

"They were both pretty good too. If I hadn't moved they both would have hit me. If he had of hit me and broke my hand or broke my arm, that's the end of my World Cup and I'm gone. I wasn't very pleased."

Fortunately, it was not the end of the World Cup.

He'd go on to finish the tournament with an average of 163.00 as Australia marched to the trophy unbeaten. They'd continue that run through to the final of 2007 World Cup and no one was surprised Symonds was there that time around.

 

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