When Symonds scored that hundred against the touring England side, he had already signed a contract with Gloucestershire for the following season. It became a memorable summer which ended with the England selectors testing his loyalties. The high point of a County Championship campaign that brought 1438 runs – starting with an unbeaten 161 against Surrey – was this spectacular double century against Glamorgan which included what was then first-class record of 16 sixes. It remained the most in the Championship until just two weeks again when Ben Stokes launched 17. Selection for the England A tour of Pakistan followed which Symonds declined.
The international career he wanted for Australia was threatening not to transpire. There had been glimpses, but not yet enough to cement a place. That all changed at the beginning of the 2003 World Cup when he backed up Ricky Ponting’s faith in him in tournament-defining style. Australia were in crisis heading into their opening game following Shane Warne’s drugs ban along with Darren Lehmann being suspended and Michael Bevan injured. They were 86 for 4 when Symonds walked in at No. 6 and he transformed the match. When Ponting was dismissed, Symonds had 34 off 50 balls. His next 109 runs (out of 164 further scored by Australia) came off 75 deliveries “We saw his talent and we’ve known it for a long time,” Ponting said. “It was about time it started coming out.” Later in the tournament, Symonds would make an equally important 91 in the low-scoring semi-final against Sri Lanka.
If there was a cricketer built for T20 it was Symonds. It took him all of one innings to make that point when he struck an unbeaten 96 off 37 balls against Hampshire at Beckenham on his debut in the format during the first season in 2003. The following year he went one better. At Maidstone he hammered 112 off 47 balls with his century coming from 34 deliveries as Kent chased 157 in 13 overs. It was the fastest hundred in the format until Chris Gayle’s 30-ball ton in 2013.
Symonds had shown glimpses early in his Test career – notably a brazen 72 against South Africa at the MCG which included five sixes – but had lost his place during 2006. Recalled midway through the Ashes his breakthrough innings came in glorious fashion at the MCG (the game most remembered for Warne’s 700th wicket) with one of his best mates, Matthew Hayden, at the other end as they tore into an England attack that had briefly threatened to make a game of it. He brought up his hundred with a straight six off Paul Collingwood. From that innings onwards, Symonds would average 60.42 for the remainder of a Test career that only tallied 26 matches.
His Test match career-best would come two years later, but it was a moment that would also signal the final phase of his international career. Symonds first-innings effort transformed Australia from 134 for 6 after he survived an edge behind which was not spotted by Steve Bucknor. In the second innings he would go on to add a further 61 as Australia built a strong lead – and he later claimed two wickets as the home side won thrillingly in the dying moments of the game – but by then match had descended into acrimony after Symonds alleged that Harbhajan Singh used a racial slur. Harbhajan was initially banned but that was overturned with Symonds believing there was a lack of support from Cricket Australia under pressure from the BCCI. His international career lasted just another 18 months amid run-ins with CA. In later years, during the IPL, Symonds and Harbhajan would make amends.
The Sydney flashpoint did not damage Symonds standing in India and just three weeks after that Test he became the most expensive overseas signing in the first IPL auction when he was bought by Deccan Chargers. In his third match for them, he scorched 117 off 53 balls in Hyderabad although, remarkably, ended on the losing side against Warne’s Rajasthan Royals. And it was the two Australians who faced off at the end. With 17 to defend off the last over, which became 14 off four balls, Warne hammered Symonds for four and two sixes. “I’ve probably bowled the worst last over in Twenty20 history. Twenty20 is good for the game but not for the ego,” he said.