Pat Symcox's Test bowling economy rate of 2.70 is quite incredible. His ODI economy rate of 4.15 is the best among all spinners who had bowled at least 3,000 balls in the 1990s © Getty Images
Pat Symcox’s Test economy rate of 2.70 is quite incredible. His ODI economy rate of 4.15 is the best among all spinners who had bowled at least 3,000 balls in the 1990s © Getty Images

Pat Symcox, born on April 14, 1960, provided the spin support to a pace-dominant South African attack in the 1990s. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of the tall, burly off-spinner.

Pat Symcox’s physique never gave anyone the idea that he bowled innocent off-breaks — or even bowled anything slower than genuine pace. The genial giant ambled a few diagonal strides before unleashing a deceptively slow delivery that often offered no turn or bounce. His forte was his accuracy and guile, and with a four-pronged pace attack almost permanently featuring in his side, his role was often restricted to holding one end up as the speedsters kept on demolishing the hapless oppositions in the 1990s.

It was with the bat, though, that Symcox’s aggression peeped through at times. The bat was more of a mace than a chisel in his massive, muscular hands, and he often cleared the fence with a brutal ease of sorts. The thick forearms came into play for once, and the sheer power carried the ball to the farthest corners of the ground. Had his career not coincided with some of the top South African all-rounders of all time, Symcox would almost certainly have batted a few positions above his usual. He was also a deceptively good fielder, especially off his own bowling.

Symcox scored 741 runs from 20 Tests at 28.50 with the bat in Test cricket. With the ball, he had picked up only 37 wickets at 43.32, but his economy rate of 2.70 was quite incredible, and given his role, he did a quite commendable job. He also played 80 ODIs, with 694 runs and 72 wickets. His ODI economy rate of 4.15 is the best among all spinners who had bowled at least 3,000 balls in the 1990s.

Early days

A Natal player since 1977, Symcox finally made it to the top level as late as 1993 — well past the age of 33, but less than two years after South Africa’s readmission to international cricket. His twenties were spent playing First-Class cricket, where he often brushed shoulders with the South African champions of his era.

He made his international debut in the shorter version first, and impressed everyone with a tight spell of 9-1-28-2 and a run out. The performance earned him a slot in the Test side. Making his debut against Sri Lanka at Moratuwa, Symcox came out to bat at 206 for 6, and butchered his way to a 64-ball 48 with 7 boundaries – out of 61 scored during his stay at the wicket. Not content, he took 3 for 75 in Sri Lanka’s second innings, and when South Africa needed to save the Test, Symcox batted for 76 minutes with Jonty Rhodes to pull off a draw.

In the next Test, Symcox added 68 with Hansie Cronje and 79 with Richard Snell, and brought up his maiden fifty in the process. He scored 30 more in the final Test, and finished with 149 runs at 37.25. With ball, on the other hand — Symcox took only 4 wickets at 57.50. It  would remain Symcox’s tale throughout his career — more than competent with the bat, but at best a defensive bowler otherwise. However, after one poor series in Australia, Symcox’s Test career seemed to have come to a halt.

In the shorter version, though, he was an asset, providing Cronje the needed variety with his accurate off-breaks and lusty late-order blows. Cronje often promoted him up the order, and after being promoted to first-down against Pakistan in Sharjah in 1995-96, Symcox blasted his way to a 35-ball 35. Cronje decided to keep faith in him, and sent him at No. 4 in the final against India with South Africa on 20 for 2.

That one decision changed the complexion of the match. While Gary Kirsten batted through the 50 overs with a match-winning 115, Symcox changed the tempo with a 49-ball 61 with 5 fours and 2 sixes, destroying the rhythm of the Indian bowlers completely, and followed it with an economic spell of 6-0-23-0. It was only the second ODI tournament South Africa had won, and the first one outside their country.

The comeback

It wasn’t until the 1996-97 India tour that Symcox was recalled to the Test side. He impressed at Ahmedabad with four for 95 and a crucial 32 in a low-scoring Test, and was selected for the final two Tests. India, however, clinched the series 2-1. In the Titan Cup final that followed, Symcox came out to bat when South Africa were 96 for seven, and scored a 61-ball 46. When the Indians went on the return tour to South Africa, the Proteans decided to go with an all-pace attack, which meant that Symcox was dropped again.

The Faisalabad Test

The Faisalabad Test in 1997-98 was the highest point of Symcox’s career. After Cronje had elected to bat, the ensemble Pakistan bowling line-up reduced South Africa to 98 for 7. Symcox walked out, and blasted a 94-ball 81 in a 124-run partnership; South Africa managed to reach 239. Symcox had the strangest of reprieves, though, when Mushtaq Ahmed’s ball went straight between his off- and middle-stumps, without dislodging the bail.

After Pakistan acquired a 69-run lead, Symcox was sent in at night-watchman with the score on 21 for 2. This time Pakistan were up against a different Symcox – a batsman determined to stick around. He top-scored with 55, and South Africa managed to score 214.

Set to score 146, Pakistan found themselves in trouble against Shaun Pollock. They recovered somewhat to 85 for 6, but Symcox, who had opened bowling, now came back — and finished with figures of 9.3-5-8-3 to clinch the Man of the Match award, bowling out Pakistan for 92.

The Australia tour

The Australia tour later that year was an eventful one for Symcox. In the first match of the Carlton & United Series, Symcox slammed a 32-ball 27, and then wrecked the Australian middle-order with figures of 10-1-28-4, thereby winning the Man of the Match award. But that was not all: while fielding in the deep, Symcox, for some reason, was singled out by the crowd: they pelted him with fruits, golf balls, and, of all things — a whole stuffed barbecued chicken. Cronje had almost taken his team off, when common sense prevailed and play resumed. On a side not, Daryll Cullinan dismissed Shane Warne in this match, and celebrated the wicket amidst much amusement of everyone present.

Symcox had an excellent tournament. From the 11 ODIs, he scored 115 runs at 23 and picked up 14 wickets at 26.14 with an economy rate of 3.85. Naturally he was an obvious choice for the Tests. He took 5 wickets at Melbourne, scored 29 and 38 and picked up two wickets in an innings defeat at Sydney, and blasted away to a 42-ball 54 batting at No. 11 — still the second-highest by a South African batting at that position, after Bert Vogler’s 62 not out.

The hundred

Symcox scored back-to-back ODI fifties — 58 and 51 — in the tournament in England later that year. However, his greatest innings came against his favourite foes at Johannesburg.

After Cronje won the toss, South Africa ran into trouble against Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed. South Africa were virtually dead and buried at 166 for eight when Symcox walked out to join Mark Boucher. As Boucher played the sheet-anchor’s role, Symcox used the long handle, easily outscoring Boucher and eventually scoring 108 from 157 balls with 17 fours. In the process, he became the third Test cricketer to score a hundred batting at No. 10. Boucher and Symcox also established a new ninth-wicket partnership record of 195 runs, going past the 190 set by Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam.

The end

Symcox’s career came to an abrupt end after this. He played 3 Tests and 4 ODIs at home against West Indies with moderate success, and the final nail in the coffin came in the New Zealand tour — where Symcox neither scored a run nor took a wicket in the three ODIs. Bob Woolmer, Symcox’s coach, said “either he bowled badly or New Zealand came at him and made him bowl badly. Take your pick, choose what you like, but they went after him, they didn’t let him settle.”

By this time the duo of Nicky Boje and Derek Crookes — younger, fitter, and more athletic than Symcox and quite capable with the bat and ball — had appeared on the scene. The failure, thus, brought the curtain on Symcox’s international career.

The man

Symcox, though a very committed cricketer, was a congenial personality with an excellent sense of humour. For whom, the sport was supposed to be played for fun — and he could liven up his side with his nature during even the tightest of encounters. In a 1997-98 Carlton & United Series final, for example, Symcox playfully dragged Ricky Ponting’s bat out of the crease and dislodged the bails, causing the crowd to go up in a wild cheer.

Later years

Symcox became a commentator in SuperSport TV after he quit cricket, but he quit in 2006. When asked for a reason, he mentioned that the tendency of the broadcasters to curb his opinions was a major reason (along with the modest pay-package). He also worked for ESPN and Channel 10.

After quitting commentary, Symcox owns the REMAX Toti real-estate franchise in KwaZulu Natal in the suburbs of Durban. He has also turned into an excellent golfer, and has attained a handicap of five. He also achieved a hole-in-one amidst a heavy downpour at Scottburgh.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at He can be followed on Facebook at and on Twitter at