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Australia hopes for the Symonds edge

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Graeme Smith's men prepared for the big clash between equals

BASSETERRE, (ST. KITTS):

Andrew Symonds will have to dispel any doubts about the strength of his throwing arm by then if he is to take part in Saturday's match at Warner Park that will determine the World Cup Group A winner.

Symonds had surgery to reattach his right biceps tendon after tearing it on Feb. 2.

Australia is hoping that Symonds would recover fully from arm surgery to give it the required boost in its World Cup match against South Africa today.

Captain Ricky Ponting said he was throwing the ball farther and harder on Thursday, a day after 30 meters was his limit.

Brad Hodge is the player most likely to make way if Symonds is declared fit. Hodge scored 123 against the Netherlands on Tuesday for his maiden ODI hundred, and Ponting appears reluctant to exclude him.

``It would be nice to welcome him back into the side, but we're not going to do that if we don't think he's at the appropriate level to play somewhere near his best,'' Ponting said of Symonds.

``Especially when we've got other guys in the team who are playing at their peak. That's what we have to weigh up, and weigh it up tomorrow, after hopefully we have another good look at him at training.''

Ponting, Australia chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch, coach John Buchanan and team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris conferred at training on Thursday to presumably discuss Symonds' fitness.

``We're hoping we can get him to 100 percent, or near enough to 100 percent, by tomorrow afternoon,'' Ponting said.

He revealed he is half-expecting to bat first regardless of who wins the toss.

``South Africa historically like to bowl first in most of their one-day games,'' he said. ``I've had a look at a lot of stats the last few days, and they've got an amazing record in day games of winning the toss and bowling first. I would imagine that would be their style of play at this venue.

``I've been pretty happy to bat first out here in the first two games we've played.''

The match will also be significant in crowning the No. 1-ranked limited-overs team by the April 1 deadline for the end-of-season rankings.

If South Africa wins it cannot be overtaken, but if Australia is victorious it will move within striking distance with two matches to play before the cutoff date.

South Africa unseated Australia as No. 1 last month _ the first nation to do that since the one-day international rankings were introduced in 2002.

If Australia wins on Saturday then South Africa's match against either Sri Lanka or Bangladesh in Guyana next Wednesday in the Super 8s will be crucial for the ranking. Australia has games against West Indies on Tuesday, and either India or Bangladesh on March 31 in Antigua that are also potentially significant.

South Africa opener A.B. de Villiers believes the teams are too close to favor one over the other.

``I don't think there's a lot of difference,'' De Villiers said. ``I think it's just the ability to put it together on the day. It needs some big-match temperament, so it's going to be a smashing game.''

De Villiers followed up his second-delivery duck against the Netherlands last Friday with a 45-ball 62 versus Scotland on Tuesday.

``I did start off slowly against Holland,'' he said. ``My game wasn't where it should have been, but it came right against Scotland. Hopefully on Saturday, I'll go out there and prove I'm a good opening bat.''

South Africa's only selection quandary appears to be whether to pick swing bowler Charl Langeveldt or paceman Andre Nel for the fourth and final bowling spot. Langeveldt was preferred to Nel for Tuesday's seven-wicket win over Scotland, but his two wickets cost 48 runs against a very modest lineup.

Proteas captain Graeme Smith said this week that they no longer feared Australia, and while Ponting agreed that South Africa has played well over the past two years, he was keen to establish one point.

``Trust me, they'll still be talking about us in their team meeting tonight, don't worry about that,'' he said.-AP

The teams (from):

Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt.), Adam Gilchrist, Nathan Bracken, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Shaun Tait, Shane Watson.

South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt.), Jacques Kallis, Loots Bosman, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Shaun Pollock, Ashwell Prince, Roger Telemachus.

Umpires: Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, Third umpire: Tony Hill; Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

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