Symonds, the unexpected hero

ANDREW SYMONDS surprised his teammates and perhaps himself, too.

G. VISWANATH

ANDREW SYMONDS surprised his teammates and perhaps himself, too. Australia is a mighty team. When in troubled waters it has been guided to safety by the remarkable batting feats of either the Waughs — Mark or Steve — Matthew Hayden or Ricky Ponting or the spectacular bowling displays of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee or Shane Warne.

The others in the team contributed their bit, but never loomed large to play the leading light's role. Symonds, who once upon a time was in two minds whether to play for Australia or England before deciding to don Australian colours, was regarded as only a bits and pieces man. His record was nothing to boast about when he went out to bat at The Wanderers in a crucial Group `B' league match of the World Cup between Australia and Pakistan. Till then he had played 54 one-day international matches and scored just 762 runs — with only two half-centuries — for an average of 23.81. Symonds has not played a Test match in a career spanning a little over three years.

He made an unbeaten 68 in his third match against India, but thereafter his role has been rather restricted to making a quick 20 or 30 runs or bowling a few overs to break partnerships or emerging with a fine catch or making a direct hit on the stumps. He was always a contributor to the team's win, but never a match-winner.

At the Wanderers, Australia seemed to be in dire straits, after being inserted by the ambitious Waqar Younis. He was keen to avenge Pakistan's defeat in the World Cup final at Lord's four years ago. Australia, with a middle order rendered weak because of the ban on Darren Lehmann and the injury to Michael Bevan, was struggling with only 86 on the board and for the loss of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Jimmy Maher. Pakistan, it seemed, was ready for the kill.

It was in these circumstances that Symonds, initially playing second fiddle to his captain Ponting, changed the course of the Australian innings with an effort of rare quality. His knock should easily find a place among the great batting displays in the history of one-day internationals.

Ponting was still looking for scoring opportunities and sustained the scoring rate at over five runs an over during the fifth-wicket partnership that began at 86. While Ponting attacked, Symonds held his fort. Shoaib Akhtar returned for his second spell to induce a stroke of indiscretion from the Australian captain and the young Tauseef Umar did not make a mistake at slip. It was a big breakthrough for Pakistan because Ponting was in such an attacking mood.

Pakistan's pace trio was right on track and once again was working as a unit. What Waqar did not strive for was that bit of extra burst to finish off a task that had been begun well by the spells of Wasim Akram, Akhtar and himself.

The Australians are past masters in turning a match on its head when given the slightest opening and this was what Symonds did on that eventful afternoon. It also seemed that after so many unconvincing shows, Symonds' time had arrived. He simply took over from where Ponting had left off. Symonds showed remarkable calmness and assurance. There was plenty of time and overs left for him to look at things with a cool head and play productive shots. He did not take chances against the fast bowlers, but punished leg-spinner Shahid Afridi, part-time spinner Younis Khan and fourth seamer Abdul Razzaq.

Waqar looked helpless. He had let Australia off the hook after having taken charge of the proceedings by the 15th over. Waqar and his team expected Symonds to falter at some point of time after the departure of Ponting. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as Pakistan wished. Symonds may not have set his mind on a rousing innings. But as the runs flowed, especially through the off-side, it developed into a great knock.

There was splendid support for Symonds from the lower order in the form of Brad Hogg and Ian Harvey as Australia added 164 runs after Ponting was dismissed at 146. The Queenslander, Symonds, even had the audacity to hit Akram straight over the sightscreen as Australia's innings cantered past the 300 mark. One had doubted Symonds' ability to bat with such maturity, but it was a day when he really came of age. The quality of his brilliant unbeaten 143 (125b, 18x4 and 2x6) might not be matched for many matches and years. Symonds put Australia on the winning platform straightaway.

Pakistan appeared clueless and Waqar could do nothing to stop the cascade of runs, especially when Afridi was the bowler. Australia galloped forward on the back of an incredible show of batsmanship from a rank outsider. It was a day when Symonds built a reputation for himself and perhaps established a sure place in the team.

After reeling under the onslaught of Symonds, Pakistan failed to pick itself up again in the match. The Australian pacemen made early inroads and made runs difficult to come by for the Pakistan batsmen. The contest had fizzled out into a one-sided affair following Symonds' marvellous show. Rashid Latif and Wasim Akram threw their bats around against Ian Harvey and Brad Hogg. Their bold methods took Pakistan past the 200-run mark before `Man of the Match' Symonds brought off a spectacular catch in the deep and McGrath took another blinder at mid-off.

The scores:

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Waqar Younis b Wasim Akram 1; M. Hayden b Wasim Akram 27; R. Ponting c Taufeeq Umar b Shoaib Akhtar 53; D. Martyn b Wasim Akram 0; J. Maher c Rashid Latif b Waqar Younis 9; A. Symonds (not out) 143; B. Hogg (run out) 14; I. Harvey c Waqar Younis b Shoaib Akhtar 24; B. Lee c Inzamam-ul-Haq b Waqar Younis 2; J. Gillespie (not out) 6; Extras (b-1, lb-9, w-12, nb-9) 31; Total (for eight wickets, 50 overs) 310.

Fall of wickets: 1-10, 2-52, 3-52, 4-86, 5-146, 6-216, 7-270, 8-292.

Pakistan bowling: Wasim Akram 10-0-64-3, Shoaib Akhtar 10-0-45-2, Waqar Younis 8.3-1-50-2, Abdul Razzaq 6-0-42-0, Shahid Afridi 9.3-0-63-0, Younis Khan 6-0-36-0.

Pakistan: Taufeeq Umar c Hogg b Lee 21; Shahid Afridi c Gilchrist b Gillespie 1; Saleem Elahi c Lee b Harvey 30; Inzamam-ul-Haq c Gilchrist b McGrath 6; Yousuf Youhana c Symonds b Harvey 27; Younis Khan c Ponting b Hogg 19; Abdul Razzaq c & b Hogg 25; Rashid Latif b Hogg 33; Wasim Akram c Ponting b Harvey 33; Waqar Younis c McGrath b Harvey 6; Shoaib Akhtar (not out) 0; Extras (b-3, lb-9, w-10, nb-5) 27; Total (in 44.3 overs) 228.

Fall of wickets: 1-9, 2-38, 3-49, 4-81, 5-103, 6-125, 7-147, 8-201, 9-223.

Australia bowling: McGrath 10-2-39-1, Gillespie 8-1-28-1, Lee 7-0-37-1, Harvey 9.3-0-58-4, Hogg 10-0-54-3.

Note: Pakistan's innings reduced to 49 overs.