Australia in South Africa 2008-09 February 3, 2009

About time for tough call

On the outer: At 33, Andrew Symonds might feel it's easier to head to India © Getty Images

Finally, Cricket Australia has got serious with Andrew Symonds, but it might be too late for the national set-up to benefit. By the time Symonds is eligible for international selection again the Indian Premier League will be about to start and he will have the choice of US$1.35 million for six weeks of Twenty20 or play for an organisation that has officially tired of him.

Symonds has a conviction sheet as long as his dreadlocks, but with him out of form and fitness - and barely in control - the Cricket Australia board, following a recommendation from the chief executive James Sutherland, told him he was not in the Test squad for South Africa. The senior players were the ones who started the push for him to be sent home following last year's Darwin adventure and while he was left out of the subsequent India Test series, the flimsiness of the ruling was shown when he was brought back as soon as the team returned. Nothing had changed.

Since the season started he has struggled for runs and been in more trouble, first with an over-eager fan in a Brisbane hotel and then during his Brendon McCullum "lump of s..." interview. A fine for the radio comments was the final slap in a path of punishments that winds back to his night out in Cardiff before the Bangladesh defeat in 2005. Despite the most recent regressions, Sutherland said after the South Africa judgment that Symonds was "making good progress" with his rehabilitation, which indicates the potential for the decision makers to soften again.

In a rare diversion from what it is usually considered important, Symonds' increased counselling programme will have priority over his Australian and Queensland commitments. Presumably he will be able to arrange his sessions away from match and training times, but it will limit his off-field promotions, something he has been pushing for since asking for a pay cut during his contract negotiations last year. Even when he loses, Symonds manages some wins.

However, at 33, he might feel it's too much hassle to follow all the self-help sheets while answering hours of open-ended questions. His long-term mate Matthew Hayden has gone and a newer breed of players seem less enamoured with his distracting indiscretions.

Ricky Ponting, one of Symonds' main promoters, speaks of the allrounder as a great player. A great friend might be a better description of someone Ponting can rely on during a match. What is more important at the moment, as the slumping Australian team seeks leadership and long-term examples, is that they have players the whole set-up can rely on. Symonds is not one of those men, no matter what his counsellors say.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo