Larrikin provides a tonic after taking the medicine

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The Independent Online

Don't ask what Australia's management put in their players tea after a nightmare weekend in Cardiff and Bristol. They brought over a unique tonic from Australia, by the name of Andrew Symonds. Trouble is that this particular tonic is not always available.

Symonds spent last Saturday watching Australia being humiliated by Bangladesh while coping with his own personal humiliation. "It was the worst I've ever felt, sitting out that particular day," he said. He had returned to the hotel early in the morning having celebrated too long and too well (the smell lingered on his breath when he arrived at Sophia Gardens). His punishment was a fine and a two-game ban. He feared it would be worse, and that he might be sent home. It was discussed, but Cricket Australia decided to let bad enough alone.

Symonds's return has been spectacular: on Thursday he scored 73 off 94 balls, took Kevin Pietersen's wicket, and was man of the match. Yesterday was the same story, except it was 5 for 18 and man of the match.

Ricky Ponting stuck by him on and off the field. Having been suspended for a couple of ODI's himself after getting a black eye in a bar room brawl in Sydney, he knew how Symonds was feeling: "You don't need anyone to tell you what you've done... he apologised to the guys straight away." Incidentally, Ponting pointed out that he also won the man of the match award in his first match after his own suspension.

Ponting's second remark was made on the field, and it was no less reassuring: "We'll get you on early and race you through a few overs." In fact, Symonds was his sixth choice of bowler, but that was in only the 21st over. He bowled off spin rather than medium pace, which is also in his repertoire. "I expected it to grip. We took the pace off the ball and it helped." Bangladesh's batsmen were utterly bemused; he took the two wickets that mattered - Shahriar Nafees and the amazing Ashraful. Three of his five wickets were bowled, one caught behind and he dived to take a caught and bowled.

At his post-match press conference, Ponting described Symonds as a "world class performer in one-day cricket". His one-day averages are impressive - 36.17 with the bat, 36.89 with the ball - but his Test appearances have been brief and unproductive. Two Tests in Sri Lanka produced 53 runs and one wicket. Now he finds himself in a similar position to Pietersen, whose one-day form presses his case for a Test place.

Here, Symonds is only picked for the one-day series. Could his form be translated into a Test place? "Yes," he murmured almost under his breath at a question addressed to Ponting.

"There's no reason why he can't. He's got a chance," said Ponting. Symonds perked up at this line of questioning. "I've just got to score lots and lots of runs lots and lots of times." But even that might not be enough: "For me to get in now, someone needs to get hurt or be crook [sick]."

It would be nice to say that it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, but that, like reports of Mark Twain's death, would be a gross exaggeration. He plays hard on and off the pitch. His assertive opposition was one cause of Ed Smith's desertion of Kent at the end of last season. He is a big man, a forbidding figure, the dreadlocks are even longer and woollier now. In Australia, Christian Ryan describes him as "a curly haired Queensland larrikin." He sounds like his own worst enemy.

Will England face him in the Ashes? A lot of runs and wickets in one-day matches do not necessarily translate into Test runs, and, once in for the long haul, the suspicion is that Symonds might be a bit flaky. He once arrived for an interview with the formally suited Malcolm Speed wearing no shoes and a cowboy hat.

Of course, he was born in Birmingham 30 years ago and, had he opted to play for England, would our selectors have remained as fastidious as Australia's? Perhaps not. The case of Pietersen may yet answer that question, one way or another.