Hodge seals New Zealand berth
A strong Pura Cup season has won Brad Hodge a spot in the streamlined 13-man squad for the three-Test series against New Zealand. Hodge beat a strong list of contenders including Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds as the selectors resisted the urge to add more options.
Rewarded for his consistency with Victoria this summer and 735 Pura Cup runs at 61.25, Hodge, 30, will make his second tour of the season after he was part of the squad that won in India for the first time in 35 years. Picked for the opening first-class match, Hodge registered 30 and 29 not out but narrowly missed replacing Ricky Ponting for the first Test when the selectors gambled on Michael Clarke.
"I'm not surprised," Hodge said. "I was more hopeful for the result. But I thought that I was more of a chance if there was a 14-man squad than a 13-man squad, so being selected has given me great hope."
Hodge and Simon Katich, who scored 58 and 43 opening in the current one-day series, will vie for the sixth batting spot and Katich is expected to play in the opening Test. Katich has been in and out of the side over the past year but performed strongly in India with 276 runs in four Tests before Darren Lehmann replaced him for the Australian summer. "It won't be a Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan-type fight," Hodge said in reference to the vicious rivalry of the US ice-skaters.
Hodge, who scored 204 not out, 140 and 88 in his last three Pura Cup innings, has also benefited from Lehmann's shoulder injury, although his decision to have surgery may have given the selectors a couple of months to prepare the leaving speech for his international career.
"Brad has presented an irresistible case to be part of this tour and if he gets the opportunity we feel confident that he can do a good job," Trevor Hohns, the chairman of selectors, said. "During the India series, when he missed out on a spot in the Test XI, we said he was still in line for national selection. His domestic form has ensured that this is the case."
Shane Watson, the Queensland allrounder who played in the last Test, was ruled out with a side strain suffered in the second VB Series final against Pakistan. The other contentious position is for the third fast bowler, which is a battle between Brett Lee's speed and Michael Kasprowicz's wicket-taking consistency.
The three Test series will be completed in 22 days and Hohns did not see the value of picking an expanded squad when players could be performing in the Pura Cup. "We feel that this is a balanced squad and don't believe we have to extend the size of the touring party," he said. "We have plenty of options and given the close proximity of the two countries we always have the option of flying players in."
Australia squad Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting (capt), Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke, Brad Hodge, Simon Katich, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz, Glenn McGrath.