Sad farewell as Symmo put to sword (21 February 1999)

21 February 1999

Sad farewell as Symmo put to sword


SATURDAY, February 20, 1999, will surely go down in the annals of the game in South Africa as the day Pat Symcox bowled himself out of international cricket.

Symcox, who turns 39 in April, will leave for South Africa tomorrow having failed in his mission to show the national selectors here (Mike Procter) and at home that he is worth a place in the World Cup squad that will leave for England in early May.

Yesterday's performance in South Africa's seven-wicket defeat, in which he bowled 7.1 overs for 64 runs, was crucial in enabling New Zealand to take a 2-1 lead in the six-match one-day series, which will resume on March 25 after three Tests, and surely showed that the midyear trip to England will be a bridge too far for the well-liked "Symmo".

"Either he bowled badly or New Zealand came at him and made him bowl badly," said coach Bob Woolmer after yesterday's defeat. "Take your pick, choose what you like, but they went after him, they didn't let him settle, and his first five overs went for 35 and that I felt was the turning point in the game." To be fair, Symcox has not often looked like doing the latter in his 80 one-day internationals, but he had, prior to yesterday's game, maintained a creditable runs per over rate of 4,10, bettered only by Shaun Pollock.

However, Symcox was on trial when he came out here; the national selectors said as much, and there are other, younger options, who can clearly do the job as well.

Most notable is Nicky Bojé, who stepped up to the plate admirably in his early overs yesterday, bowling his first four for just seven, before Astle took a liking to him and messed up his figures (he finished with seven overs for 35) with a series of lofted shots to the boundary.

And there's also the reliable Derek Crookes at home. Both are better fielders than Symcox and Bojé, at least, is a more accomplished batsman. South Africa now face the psychologically demanding task of having to win the last three one-day internationals to clinch the series, but before that there's the small matter of a Test series and Bojé's name might well get a mention as the first match, starting in Auckland on Saturday, approaches.

One of the short-term upsides of the disappointing withdrawal of David Terbrugge from the tour was that it appeared to offer a resurgent Lance Klusener a deserved automatic Test place for this series.

Given the historical South African preference for pace over spin, that may still be the case. It certainly should hold true for the second and third Tests at Christchurch and Wellington respectively, where the pitches are expected to ideally suit a pace-based bowling attack, with Paul Adams' wrist-spin providing the variation.

However, there could well be some healthy debate among the tour selectors, with Klusener's name featuring alongside that of Boje.

Asked after yesterday's match whether the selection of two spinners was possible, Woolmer said: "We've always played four seamers and one spinner. Having seen what happened today, in terms of the pace of the wicket, maybe that (two spinners) isn't an option, but we'll give it some thought, certainly."

When Matthew Hart, another left-armer, was called in to bolster New Zealand's slow bowling options ahead of yesterday's game - he was left out of the final line-up - the press release announcing his selection said it was due to "the uncertain nature of the Eden Park pitch". Local opinion is that at Eden Park "you never know what you're going to get" and that the two-spinner debate will always feature along the line.

There is a concerted effort underway here to improve the quality of the country's pitches, largely in order to make the Black Caps more competitive in Tests outside New Zealand, but it's expected the results will be seen more clearly in the tracks at Christchurch and Wellington.

However the pitch pans out, there is still plenty in Klusener's favour, not least the fact that he has much Test experience under his belt and is a proven wicket-taker at the highest level. His measured unbeaten century yesterday also showed how much he has matured as an international player. Bojé has yet to play a Test, which is obviously not in his favour given that to play this week he must cause the selectors to change a winning line-up. He is also not the type of bowler to run through a side like Adams has done.

However, nagging accuracy on a pitch offering a turn later in the match - yesterday's pitch turned appreciably - as will doubtless be served up by the Kiwis' own Daniel Vettori, could be extremely effective if the surface is as low and slow as expected.

A genuine allrounder now, with the runs flowing in the last two seasons, he's not likely to let the team down with the bat either.

The decision gains in importance because it affects the first Test of a three-match series, where a defeat is tough to bounce back from. But given their form against the West Indies, the Proteas should be confident of doing the job with the traditional combination and pressing home the advantage on more familiar surfaces further south.