Cricket is mourning the loss of Australia “cult hero” Andrew Symonds, who has been killed in a car accident in Queensland aged 46.
The tragedy comes just two months after his former team-mate, Shane Warne, died at 52 from a heart attack and Australia legend Rod Marsh passed away aged 74.
Queensland police are investigating the accident, which happened just outside Townsville on Saturday evening. No other vehicles were involved and there was no other person travelling with Symonds.
“Early information indicates shortly after 11pm the car was being driven on Hervey Range Road, near Alice River Bridge when it left the roadway and rolled,” a police statement read. “Emergency services attempted to revive the 46-year-old driver and sole occupant, however, he died of his injuries.”
A couple who arrived on the scene minutes after the crash, Babetha Neliman and Waylon Townson, found Symonds unresponsive and were unable to locate a pulse.
Neliman told The Courier-Mail Symonds’ two dogs, blue heelers, were still by his side.
“One of them was very sensitive and didn’t want to leave him,” she said. “It would just growl at you every time we tried to move him or go near him.”
Inspector Gavin Oates said there was no suggestion at this stage that alcohol had been involved.
Symonds leaves behind a wife, Laura, and two young children, Billy and Chloe. “We are still in shock – I’m just thinking of the two kids,” said his wife. “He was such a big person and there is just so much of him in his kids.’’
Like Warne, Symonds was a favourite with the crowds for his “larrikin” personality and positive cricket. He encapsulated the outback spirit, loving fishing, camping and the outdoor lifestyle, and combined it with a big hitting batting, brilliant fielding and canny bowling.
He was born in Birmingham and played for four counties. Only last week, his record for the most sixes in a championship innings – 16 – was broken by England captain Ben Stokes.
Symonds, like Stokes, played cricket aggressively and was a larger-than-life personality who could clear the boundary especially in white-ball cricket, where he excelled, winning two World Cups with the great Australia side of the early 2000s.
Given up for adoption as a three-month-old, Symonds moved to Australia with his new parents shortly after. As a young cricketer, he caught England’s eye after a string of powerful performances for Gloucestershire, including his century against Glamorgan at Abergavenny, where he hit those 16 sixes. He was selected for an England A team tour to Pakistan in 1995-96 in a doomed bid to persuade him to play for his country of birth.
Symonds, nicknamed Roy, struggled to break into the great Australia team of the era and it was not until Ricky Ponting became captain that his career took off. He played 26 Tests, 198 one day internationals and 14 T20s. He played for Queensland for 17 seasons and had two stints in the IPL.
The highlight of his career was his maiden Test hundred in the Ashes Test at the MCG in 2006-07, when he reached three figures with his great friend, and fellow Queenslander, Matthew Hayden at the other end.
Cricket Australia chair Lachlan Henderson described Symonds as “a cult hero during the peak of his international playing career and one of the most skilled all-rounders Australian cricket has seen”. He added: “The Queenslander was a larger-than-life figure who drew a widespread fan base during his peak years for not only his hard-hitting ways but his larrikin persona.”
There were moments of controversy. He was sent home from the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup for drinking, which ended his Australia career. He was victim of racial abuse during a one-day series in India in 2007 and a year later alleged Harbhajan Singh had racially abused him during a Test in Sydney. The ensuing controversy nearly led to the cancellation of the series.
After retiring, Symonds became a broadcaster for Fox and pursued his outdoor sports. “He hit the ball a long way and just wanted to entertain. He was, in a way, a little bit of an old-fashioned cricketer,” said former Test captain Allan Border. “He was an adventurer. Loved his fishing, he loved hiking, camping. People liked his very laid-back style. He lived in Townsville. When I spoke to him, I think he still had a hundred head of cattle he used to muster. Symo away from the cameras and away from the spotlight, loved, I think, a bit of solitude and that is why he loved his fishing. Loved his own time.”
His former team-mates lined up to pay tribute. “If Roy shook your hand you had his word, that’s the sort of bloke he was and that’s why I always wanted him on my team,” said Ponting. “An extraordinary player and even better human being. Can’t believe he’s gone. Thoughts are with his family at this time.”
Adam Gilchrist praised his team-mate’s cricket intelligence and style. “Simply stunned. I can’t believe we’re in this space again, the cricketing world,” he told radio station SEN. “Anyone that had anything to do with ‘Symo’ knew exactly what he was like. He was one of the good guys, a real heart-and-soul type of guy that really made you happy – he just lit up the room wherever he was.
“He was so knowledgeable in the game of cricket, a whole lot more knowledgeable and articulate than what people might give him credit for. That was starting to shine through in his commentary, his ability to read the game and to know what was going to happen … it was amazing, it was an asset and a skill that Ricky Ponting as captain drew on a lot more than people know. He was a larrikin; he found the lighter side of most situations. Anyone that didn’t know him, just think of your closest friend who would do anything for you.”
Tributes also flooded in from around the cricketing world.
West Indies great Brian Lara posted on Twitter: “We exchanged messages just hours ago... what’s really going on? Baffled and heartbroken! How could we lose another iconic figure in our sport so soon RIP Roy Condolences to Andrew’s family and close friends.”
India icon Sachin Tendulkar wrote: “Andrew Symond’s [sic] demise is shocking news for all of us to absorb. Not only was he a brilliant all-rounder, but also a live-wire on the field.
“I have fond memories of the time we spent together in Mumbai Indians. May his soul rest in peace, condolences to his family & friends.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan wrote: “Simmo .. This doesn’t feel real .. #RIP.”
Players from three of Symonds’ former counties, Kent, Surrey and Lancashire, were due to wear black armbands for the resumption of their championship matches on Sunday and hold minutes’ silences in his honour before play.
A “shocked” and “saddened” Kent, where he spent most of his county career, paid tribute to their “cult hero”.
“He was a brilliant, combative cricketer who could win a game with bat, ball, in the field or with his sheer will to win and presence on the field,” said former Kent captain David Fulton, who skippered Symonds during his time at the club. “Simply, a fantastic team-mate.”
A statement from Surrey added: “Andrew left a mark at the club on and off the pitch and all our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Lancashire and Gloucestershire – whose own championship match against Somerset finished on Saturday – both said they were “devastated” by his loss.