Illingworth goes on attack as Symonds refuses tour

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Andrew Symonds' decision yesterday to reject England's A tour of Pakistan this winter, thus keeping open his option to play for Australia, sparked a fierce reaction from the chairman of selectors, Raymond Illingworth.

While agreeing that Symonds, Birmingham-born but Queensland raised, had made a decision "of the heart" Illingworth said that even if Symonds returned to Gloucestershire next April and signed the proffered three- year contract: "If I were chairman of selectors then I would not pick him. We have forced the issue. That's it."

He then turned on Graham Gooch, a former England captain and outspoken critic of Symonds' equivocation, adding: "A lot of people went on a rebel tour. The only reason they went on those sort of tours was for money. For those people to be shouting their mouth off is out of order."

Illingworth's outburst indicates just how feelings have been ruffled by this talented 20-year-old's attempt to earn a living in both England and Australia. At 11am yesterday, Symonds and Gloucestershire both issued terse statements hoping, it was clear, to settle the matter at least temporarily.

Symonds, whose replacement will be the Middlesex opener Jason Pooley, said: "I recognise it is an honour to be selected but having carefully considered my longstanding commitments to the Queensland Association, my club on the Gold Coast and my family, I have decided to return to Australia for the winter."

Gloucestershire added, "We respect his decision. We look forward to welcoming him back for the start of a three-year contract in 1996."

At this point David Graveney, who is both an England selector, partly responsible for choosing Symonds, and the general secretary of the Cricketers' Association, wholly responsible for the employment of his 400 members, intervened to reveal that the whole subject would be debated at today's annual general meeting of the Association at the Cafe Royal, London.

"Certain members are unhappy about the registration regulations and the subject will be debated." He added that the CA had been involved in "on- going discussions" with the Test and County Cricket Board, "particularly the legal aspects concerning restraint of trade".

Symonds is not certain to win a place in Queensland's Sheffield Shield side and as Australia have no A team fixtures planned this winter the probability is that he will return to Gloucestershire still retaining his dual qualification under the present rules.

What might happen in the meantime to a player who, Illingworth conceded, "was a very talented lad who would have been an asset to England" is that the TCCB, under some intensive prompting from the selectors will tighten the regulations, making it impossible for a successor to slip through.

As Illingworth put it: "If people are not available for England then they should be regarded as overseas players."

Whatever happens to Symonds in the future it may be that his name will always be remembered as that of someone who changed history.