Symonds delays the declaration

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The Independent Online
What is becoming the great waiting game lurched forward another day with no one any the wiser. Andrew Symonds was due to tell the world whether he preferred to play for England or Australia, but a wet morning passed in Bristol without any decision.

Gloucestershire called a press conference, at no specified time, and then omitted to tell the press box at Nevil Road that it was taking place. Eventually, word filtered through that the Gloucestershire chairman, Dickie Rossiter, was making a statement to the effect that Symonds would not be saying anything more until Monday lunchtime.

"He still needs time to talk to people in Australia over the weekend. It will be then only seven days since he was invited to tour by England." Do the county have a hint? Rossiter replied: "I think it is even money which way he will go." Gloucestershire's chief executive, Philip August, indicated the way the county would like it to be: "I hope he will sign for us on a long-term basis and agree to go on this tour."

Serious misgivings about his signing for Gloucestershire were expressed publicly by Essex, notably Graham Gooch, and privately by the Cricketers' Association, who are becoming increasingly concerned about the influx of overseas players.

Had Symonds failed the matter might have blown over; he didn't. His overall form, and the impact he had on audiences, had the county coach, Andy Stovold, affirming: "He is potentially world class." His county captain, Jack Russell, said of him: "He is the best 20-year-old batsman that I have seen since Brian Lara."

England selected him for the A tour of Pakistan in the party named on Tuesday to try to pin him down: English or Australian. Symonds was born in Birmingham but brought up in Australia, whose captain, Mark Taylor, warned, on hearing of the controversy when arriving with the New South Wales team last Saturday: "He will have to wait his turn. We have several good young batsmen [Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist] seeking a place."

Symonds is not even sure of a place in Queensland's Sheffield Shield side, although in Brisbane yesterday, according to the State coach, Barry Richards, there was every expectation he would opt for home. His parents and girlfriend are there and 19 of his years have been spent there.

If Allan Border reneges on his decision to retire then Symonds could be omitted. Border, Australia's longest-serving captain, had a trial with Gloucestershire in 1977. How did he compare with Symonds? "He doesn't," said one member. "Symonds is twice as good."

Symonds, as confused under this pressure as most lads of his age would be, has been reproved by the county for talking of his quandary to a tabloid, and this further delay will no doubt encourage more financial inducements to tell all. What has to be resolved, whether Symonds re- states his original ambition of playing for Australia, or tours Pakistan, is whether he can return to county cricket.

Gloucestershire, rightly pointing out that as of now Symonds is qualified for England and therefore not an overseas player, have offered him a new three-year contract. As August, thinking of his members' subscriptions, confirms: "He is an exciting player. He puts bums on seats."

Whatever Symonds' decision on Monday it will not drain away all the muddy water. In an increasingly cosmopolitan and mobile world the question of national identity, for a world champion, is crucial. Only the ICC can resolve those questions but can they make crucial decisions?