Symonds on Waugh footing

Stephen Brenkley hears how the little Englander became a natural Australian
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The Independent Online

If Andrew Symonds has any regrets about playing for Australia instead of England he conceals them with the joy of a man who stepped over a cow pat and found a crock of gold. It is six years since he declined an invitation to play for the land of his birth in the hope that one would eventually be forthcoming from the country where he was brought up.

Had he accepted the original offer he would probably be a cornerstone of England's Test and one-day teams by now. Instead of which he has yet to play a Test for Australia ­ and may very well never do so ­ and despite 39 one-day caps has yet to secure his position. He must live with the decision for the rest of his days. He is a vastly contented man.

"Yeah, well, I never wanted to play for England," he said, as though anybody proposing the idea was crazy. "I was 18 months old when I left here. I was completely uninterested in any of it. I would rather play whatever number of one-dayers for Australia and never play a Test but know that I'd done my best."

Symonds is back in this country with the Australian squad for the NatWest Series and he does not view it in any way as a homecoming. In conception and execution, he is as Australian as it is possible for somebody who was born in Birmingham to be. He plays cricket hard and with a swagger. It was noticeable that he never once referred to his erstwhile compatriots as poms, but that is evidently how he thinks of them.

The confusion surrounding Symonds' allegiance was caused when he joined Gloucestershire for the 1995 summer, using his birthplace to avoid being registered as an overseas player. By its end he had scored 1,458 runs, had hit a world record 16 sixes in an innings, had been made the Young Cricketer of the Year and had been picked for England A's tour of Pakistan.

Amid some needless jingoism and thinly veiled accusations of treachery, he declined the selectors' invitation. He returned to Gloucestershire for the following season, still titularly English. Considering his feelings on his true status this was pushing it a bit. He finally ended all speculation by being picked in an Australian one-day squad that winter (and ending up as 12th man).

"I came over here to play cricket, thinking I'd become a better player. It was organised by my friend Dave Gilbert [now the chief executive of Sussex, who had once played for Gloucestershire himself] and I just wanted to have fun, play the game, go home again. It didn't quite turn out like that from a media perspective, but that's the way I always thought of it. I was never coming over here to stay."

So now we know, and probably should have done back in December 1994 when he scored his maiden first-class hundred for Queensland. It was against the English tourists.

Still, it has not quite turned out as this product of the Black Country and Ballarat and Clarendon College on the Gold Coast might have wished or expected. Such has been the recent strength of Australian cricket that, despite being one of the hardest hitting of all batsmen, he has never quite broken through.

Symonds estimates that he is four, five or six batsmen away from a place in the Test team ("hopefully four"), and while he is more often than not in the one-day side he is still part of the rotational selection system. His recent form has not been auspicious. Batting mostly at six or seven, he has gone four innings without reaching double figures, his medium-paced off-spin has gone at more than five an over in four of his last six matches.

"I still have aspirations to play Tests but that's not going to be an easy task," he said. "You've just got to perform year in, year out and hopefully force an opportunity. It wouldn't be a matter of regret if I knew I'd given it my best shot."

Watching Symonds play is to watch an Australian at work. He is, in the vernacular, up for it. His will to win is strong, his method of ensuring it can sail close to the wind. Like his colleagues, he knows it. "It's the competitive nature of Australians," he said. "We don't like to lose any game, even if we're winning a series 4-0. We do have a bit of white-line fever. As we step on to the field we only have 11 mates, I suppose. That's the way we play and occasionally we have a little spill-over.

"Adam Gilchrist, the vice-captain, and I had a conversation when we went to Gallipoli on the way over. We were being talked through the whole deal and were told by the bloke leading the tour party that the two sides fought 20 metres apart in the trenches in the front line. Neither side hated each other.

"The Australians didn't hate the Turks and the Turks didn't hate the Australians, and yet in the space of two tennis courts thousands of people died. I guess Gilly said that's the way that he looks at his cricket. We don't love to hate the opposition, we just want to win." Yes, well if Gallipoli has had that effect and the Aussies can truly compare cricket to war, then the opposition are in big trouble.

Symonds is not about to change. He is proud of the fact that "in the heat of the battle we keep going forward, which can be our downfall with referees or umpires. The worst aspect of it is that the kids can see what we're doing when we get hot under the collar, but the nature of the beast means it won't change".

This was all Australian. But what about the series ahead. Would they win it? "We're all tremendously proud to represent Australia. It's not going to be a walk in the park but we've got a terrific mix, a lot of experience which you can't buy, and it being an Ashes tour, that will bring that extra bit out of us if there is anything. I think there is something, there always is with us. We always know we can find that bit extra."

And if not during it all, then after it, surely, he would conjure up a smidgen of sympathy and fellow-feeling for the land of his birth. "No, mate," said the Queenslander.

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