Cricket: Symonds opts for Australia

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Andrew Symonds' decision to pledge his future to Australia comes as a blow to English cricket in general and Gloucestershire in particular.

The 21-year-old all-rounder, born in Birmingham but taken to Australia when he was 18 months old, settled the matter of his dual nationality by agreeing to play for Australia A in tomorrow's match against the West Indies in Melbourne.

"I am an Aussie and always have been," Symonds declared. "I will play my cricket for Australia, so I will play on Friday. "I love living in Australia. I love the lifestyle and I think I always will. The decision wasn't very tough for me because I have known in my heart that I've always been an Aussie."

The move will disappoint those who wanted to see Symonds playing for England and it comes a year after he rejected a place in England A's tour of Pakistan.

Gloucestershire will no longer be able to field Symonds as an England- qualified player and, with the West Indies captain, Courtney Walsh, taking the one overseas player's berth at Bristol, Gloucestershire were are contemplating life without their leading run-scorer of last season.

"He was a major piece in our playing jigsaw for the future of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club," admitted their cricket secretary, Philip August. "He leaves a huge hole to fill."

August added: "We spent most of last season seeking assurances from Andrew about his playing future, and this is obviously disappointing.

"But we wish him well. Andrew is a lovely lad and a cracking cricketer, who just found himself with two passports and in a pretty unenviable position."

Symonds, who scored 33 in the President's XI victory over West Indies in Canberra yesterday, could now be available as an overseas player for other counties, providing he is not selected for Australia's Ashes tour party.

Mike Gatting was pleased the player had finally made up his mind. "It's no surprise at all for me. I'm very glad he's made a decision at last," the England A coach said.