Hodge warms up for Hobart with fierce hundred
Victoria 4 for 441 (Hodge 177, Hussey 91*, Jewell 59, Samuels 3-149) v West Indians
Brad Hodge all but assured himself of a long-awaited Test debut with a commanding hundred in spearheading a run-feast by Victoria on the opening day of the tour match against the West Indians at Junction Oval in Melbourne.
The 30-year-old Hodge, included in Australia's 12-member squad for the second Test at Hobart at the expense of Simon Katich, took full toll of yet another indisciplined bowling performance by the visitors in compiling 177, as the hosts toyed with the opposition in racing to 441 for four before fading light ended play three overs early.
Coming on the heels of a 379-run drubbing in the first Test against Australia in Brisbane, and with the second match at Bellerive Oval beginning next Thursday, West Indians looked a downcast, dispirited bunch in the chilly weather.
Michael Klinger was the only batsman on the first day to miss out on the plunder, being run out in just the third over of the day by Tino Best's fine throw to the wicketkeeper from deep mid wicket. But this dismissal failed to inspire the West Indians, with Best particularly wayward in conceding 91 runs off 16 wicketless overs, as he indulged in far too much short-pitched bowling to the delight of Hodge. The compact strokemaker cut and pulled his way to his first first-class hundred of the relatively young season, delighting the small but appreciative crowd in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda after home captain Cameron White won the toss and chose to bat. Many coming into the ground might have been hoping to see the return to form of Brian Lara, but the West Indies batting kingpin was resting the injured finger on his left hand that is still causing him some discomfort.
Hodge made up for any disappointment at his absence with an entertaining innings that spanned four hours and was embellished with 23 fours and five sixes off 178 deliveries. Indeed, he seemed poised for a score well in excess of 200 before falling to Marlon Samuels 20 minutes after the tea break, scooping a catch to substitute fielder Daren Powell at short midwicket having already crashed two sixes earlier in the over.
Samuels, who claimed the three wickets that fell to bowlers at a cost of 149 runs off 29 overs, celebrated each dismissal in the elaborate manner of someone preoccupied more with style than substance or context.
None of the three specialist fast bowlers-Best, Fidel Edwards and Jermaine Lawson-or all-rounder Dwayne Bravo made any impression in their opening spells save for the indentations left on the white picket fence that rings the ground, as Hodge and company carted their wayward offerings to almost every part of the ground.
Adding to their untidy effort was a spate of no-balls-25-with Best contributing five wides for good measure. The hyperactive Barbadian attempted to redeem himself in his final spell late in the day, generating tremendous pace and causing considerable difficulty to the batsmen that followed Hodge with a succession of short-pitched deliveries into the body. White was saved from serious injury by the grill of his helmet and was then missed down the leg-side by diving Denesh Ramdin, the wicketkeeper.
Yet he was content to survive on 29 while, at the other end, David Hussey, younger brother of Brisbane Test debutant Mike, stroked his way to an unbeaten 91, the pair putting on 90 runs for the fifth wicket with a rapidity that improved on the already frenetic rate of scoring throughout the day.
With only two days left in the match, it remained to be seen if White would have allowed Hussey, who had struck four fours and four sixes off 92 balls, to get to the hundred on the second morning today or declared overnight on what seems to be an excellent surface for batting. The sight of the Victoria openers striding to the middle ahead of the West Indians at the start of play was a portent of things to come, and on Australia's Remembrance Day-paying tribute to fallen soldiers in the country's armed conflicts from World War I to the present-Shivnarine Chanderpaul's men hardly looked in the mood for any sort of fight.
Lloyd Mash, the debutant opener, kept his composure despite being at fault in Klinger's run out dismissal, reaching 44 and putting on 108 for the second wicket with the rampant Hodge before being bowled by a quicker delivery from Samuels in the first over after lunch. Nick Jewell, the tall right-hander, then contributed 59, helping Hodge add 159 for the third wicket and a further 65 runs with Hussey until his concentration wavered and an attempted cut gave Ramdin a straightforward catch and Samuels his third wicket.
White, whose team has started the domestic first-class season with two outright victories to share top spot with defending champions New South Wales, strode to the middle with Victoria already in control at 351 for four.
Yet in less than an hour at the crease, considerably more damage was done, not just to the figures of unimpressive bowlers or their deflated teammates, but to the once proud image of West Indies cricket in the eyes of Australian spectators who could only shake their heads in disbelief at the shambolic display from a team they had come to respect and admire over several decades of fierce, high-class contests.