A hurrah to Hodge
By the standards of international sportsmen Brad Hodge is on the tiny side so he better find space for some growing room. Not content with raising his maiden century, Hodge made it a double with a performance rubbing South Africa out of the match and qualifying him as an international batsman.
Reaching the Australian side can take decades so it's essential for new caps to create immediate and memorable impressions. Andrew Symonds has failed in two attempts over five Tests and remains under constant inspection while Hodge has joined Michael Hussey on the dramatic-entry list and must now carry a bulging reputation from his third Test.
At 178cm, Hodge can look out of place under the tall timber of his team-mates, but after today's 203, an innings that showed his range, there is no question about his suitability for the side. He was studious and admirably patient in posting an unbeaten 91 on day three, and he woke in a positive mood after being boosted by the groundwork of the previous day.
"I didn't sleep too well and was playing cover drives, late cuts, even leg-glances in my sleep," he said. "But I thought if I carry the same sort of principles I used yesterday it would be put me in good stead today."
The nine runs to three figures came reasonably comfortably and then he set about impressing with his stroke-play. Driving from cover to mid-on in a way no batsman has replicated in this match, Hodge showed his mastery of a stopping surface and picked up 112 from 148 deliveries today.
Versatility is important for a No. 4 and Hodge, who will turn 31 during the Boxing Day Test, has demonstrated how he can sprint when necessary and lock up when it looks like trouble. Australia face more changes following the hamstring injury to Justin Langer but one crucial place is no longer an immediate concern after a period of instability following the dropping of Damien Martyn. "It's really nice to secure a spot for a short time," he said, "and I'm very much looking forward to next week at the MCG on my home ground."
Wanting to declare before tea, Ricky Ponting sent a message for Hodge to increase his rate and on reaching the double-century he probably showed the most emotion of his career. In his Victoria player profile Hodge says he would be a fashion designer if he wasn't a cricketer and when batting his face offers as much expression as a bored supermodel.
He broke into a smile after a long breath at 100 and accepted a blokey hug from Andrew Symonds before returning to portrait mode. However, when he cut Jacques Rudolph for his 22nd boundary and his second major milestone of the day his face lit up like it was being splashed with camera flashes, and he celebrated with a dainty, arcing run and a double arm-raise to the dressing-room. He may even have spilled a tear.
Hodge's team-mates responded with standing applause and the South Africans wondered how they would deal with a massive target of 491. The frontline bowlers had not been thrashed across the WACA and throughout the innings had remained persistent. A series of difficult catches were spilled, but what Graeme Smith missed most was a player capable of inducing a collapse.
South Africa fought hard and were on even terms for almost three days before Australia pulled away through Hodge. If they are to achieve a draw, which would be a fine performance on a pitch favouring Shane Warne, they must show the same attributes and calm stature that drove Australia's small double-century maker.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo