Priceless efforts indeed!

Andrew Symonds' heroics were to the fore in the championship. — Pic. AP-

THE 15th man did make a difference. Andrew Symonds took the last spot in the Aussie squad for the World Cup, and then took flight on the elevated stage.

His was a selection that was much debated upon. After all, Symonds had appeared hopelessly out of sorts in the VB triangular series, down on confidence, and appearing out of place in an Aussie outfit of winners.

Yet, the `wise men' opted for Symonds for his ability to `win' matches. The selectors got it dead right — it proved an inspirational choice.

They knew Symonds could dominate attacks, field brilliantly, and turn his arm over usefully. If he rediscovered his self-belief, he could be valuable in pressure situations.

Making it to the World Cup must have meant so much to this Queenslander. Never the kind to grab easy options, he had spurned an opportunity to wear English colours, for pursuing a greater dream — representing Australia.

But then, when the chance arrived, he never quite made the most of it, remaining a fringe player, unable to do justice to his talent. Predictably, uncomfortable questions were being thrown up. Symonds' career was clearly on the crossroads when he journeyed to Southern Africa. The Australian think-tank can be pretty unforgiving, and deep down, he must have realised — it was time to perform.

The door of opportunities opened for him early on, when Australian middle-order, with Michael Bevan, injured, and Darren Lahmann, still serving the ban for his `racist' words against the Sri Lankans, was looking for options. Symonds received a look-in, and he did not look back. Actually, the Aussies had their backs to the wall, against the marauding Pakistani pacemen at the Wanderers. The men in yellow were 86 for four, and the heat was on the defending champion.

Symonds, walking in at no. 6, could not have picked a better moment to emerge the pick. It was an intelligent display of batsmanship, as the Queenslander handling Wasim Akram & Co. with circumspection and launching into Shahid Afridi's leg-spin, wrested the initiative from the Pakistanis.

Skipper Ricky Ponting had shown the way with a counter-attacking 53, and then, Symonds took over, using his feet, finding the gaps at will, picking up the ones and the twos, and striking the ball long and hard; the big-built man was revelling on a big occasion. There were useful supporting hands from Brad Hogg and Ian Harvey, but it was Symonds who sizzled, rattling up an unbeaten 143 off just 123 balls, eighteen boundaries and two sixes dotting his epic effort. The Aussies made a daunting 310 for eight, and there was only one way this match was going to end. Symonds would deliver at the crunch again, this time in the semifinal. The Aussies had slumped to 51 for three on a slow Port Elizabeth pitch affording turn, and the Lankan spinners were imposing themselves on the contest.

Again Symonds was not found wanting, surviving a couple of anxious moments early on, but holding the innings together, remaining unconquered on 91 (118b, 7x4, 1x6). Australia, thanks to Symonds' heroics, progressed to 212, enough for its bowlers to carry the day.

It was clever batting by Symonds, who blended caution with aggression, driving and flicking with panache, running hard, and opening his shoulders when the opportunity arose. The maturity in his methods were only too evident.

These indeed were two priceless efforts in Australia's triumphant World Cup campaign. Success following long periods of frustration always tastes sweeter, and Andrew Symonds could afford to smile... at last. — S. Dinakar