'I feel like I'm 21 again' - Brad Hogg
They say 40 is the new 30. Or maybe 40 is the new 20 in Brad Hogg's case after he was selected in Australia's T20 squad for next week's internationals against India. Hogg, who turns 41 next month, retired from all forms of cricket in March 2008 but made his comeback this summer for the Perth Scorchers and has been one of the standout performers in the Big Bash League.
He has collected 12 wickets at an average of 13.50 in helping the Scorchers reach this weekend's final, but even more impressive has been his economy rate of 5.40. Hogg now has the chance not only to resume his international career next week, but also to earn himself a place at the ICC World Twenty20, to be held in Sri Lanka in September.
"It's unbelievable. Seriously I feel like I'm 21 again," Hogg said. "I really feel excited about where my cricket's gone over the last month and to be honest with you it's just a dream come true.
"John (Inverarity, national selection manager) rang me up yesterday morning and just asked me if I was right to go. He woke me up at about 7 o'clock in the morning, the old bugger, but it was just great news. I hardly slept last night. I'm just excited. It's just like being a kid again and another Christmas present under the Christmas tree."
It is an astonishing turn-around for Hogg, who four years ago ended a 15-year first-class career that brought him seven Test appearances, 123 one-day internationals, and two T20 internatioanls. Despite still being extremely fit, and seemingly enjoying the game, he cited personal issues as the major reason for his retirement, saying at the time "I've got things that I want to sort out at home and get my new chapter in my life organised and on the go."
Hogg disappeared from the game completely, surfacing briefly as a television commentator for Australia's tour of India in 2010, before returning to represent Willetton Dragons in Perth grade cricket last season. After two T20s he was convinced to play two-day cricket again, and he took 5 for 44 in an elimination final, before scoring off a match-winning 144 in the semi-final. Since being recruited by the Perth Scorchers this season he has been a revelation.
"I didn't plan it. It's just really exciting and I'm going to enjoy every moment of it," Hogg said. "One thing I've realised over the last three years is life only comes once and once cricket was gone I thought it was gone forever. But I'm just really going to make the most of this opportunity. It's just fantastic. I'm proud to be West Australian and I'm proud to be back in the green and gold as well."
Only Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (15) and James Faulkner (13) have taken more wickets in the BBL than Hogg this summer, while only Mitchell Starc has a better average, and no other player has conceded less than a six per over. However, despite his incredible form, representing Australia had only recently become a possibility in Hogg's mind.
"Probably only about a week ago I started to think if they were interested in selecting me I'd definitely take that opportunity," he said. "The only thing that's on my mind for the rest of this week is to make sure that we give it our best to get some silverware on the mantelpiece for West Australian cricket through the Perth Scorchers, and then after that my goal will be to try and get in that World Cup squad and win a World Cup at T20 level for Australia."
Hogg is no stranger to World Cups having been a part of both the 2003 and 2007 triumphs for Australia in the 50-over format. Hogg was quick to point out he was no guarantee to go to the World T20 later this year and was even more cagey when asked about his prospects of playing beyond that tournament.
"Firstly I've got to be fit around the World Cup and I've got to be still showing form. They're not going to pick me if I'm not showing form, simple as that. Beyond the World Cup I don't really have any aspirations after that. I think Australian cricket's got to look forward and go for the younger players, but at the present moment, luckily, I've been in form with the ball and they've given me the nod to participate in Twenty20 cricket for Australia. I'm not going to complain, simple as that."
Hogg was hoping to go Sri Lanka for the World T20 in any case, having accepted a coaching role with Papua New Guinea.
"I've had to change a few things. I was meant to be coaching Papua New Guinea and we were hoping to get that squad into the T20 World Cup just coming up. Things have changed. We've got to find a new coach over there for the boys.
"Andy Bichel was doing the job and then I was going to take over when Bich decided to leave but those things have changed. I'll stay involved in some capacity there. [I will] keep chatting with Greg Campbell who is in charge. They're a pretty good, talented squad over there. An interesting group of people but the enthusiasm over there for the way they go about their cricket gave me the joy to come back and play for the Perth Scorchers."
Should Hogg play next Wednesday against India it will be one month shy of four years since he last represented Australia, and more than five years since he played a T20 international. But that pales by comparison to the seven-year, 78-match gap between his first and second Tests. However, Hogg is unperturbed by any of that as Twenty20 has given him a new lease on life.
"If I was a little bit younger I'd want to play all three forms of the game but Twenty20's given me the opportunity to participate for my country at the highest level again and keep me involved in the game as a player," he said. "Basically I just want to stay involved in cricket as long as I can. It's been my life from day dot, I've enjoyed it. I love my sport and I'm just grateful that cricket's given me the opportunities that it has."
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth