Grabbing your final chance
Ricky Ponting has dominated talk of Australia's batsmen over the past week following his cleansweep at the Allan Border Medal, but the period has been more important for Brad Hodge. While accolades and prizes come like breaths to Ponting, Hodge was only in his 13th appearance at international level when he replaced Andrew Symonds at the MCG on Sunday.
Given two games earlier in the series as Ponting's understudy, Hodge scored 0 and 1, so as he stepped out on his home ground with Australia at 3 for 112 his career was as doubtful as the prospects of over-hauling New Zealand's 290. Failure would almost certainly have led to a full-time life on the domestic scene and days of questions - "What if I hadn't got that leading-edge in Brisbane? Why didn't I leave that ball in Sydney?"
Instead the lead-up failures increased the significance of his 99 not out and the 154-run partnership with Ponting that earned a ground-record chase. The only thing missing as he powered to the victory with ten balls to go was another couple of New Zealand runs to give him time to register his first century. A boundary was needed from his last chance, but he was forced to run two to end the match.
The MCG supporters roared, just as they had when he played his only Test there in 2005-06, and wished for another single. Hodge was satisfied, bouncy and cheerful. He may never make a one-day century, but winning a game for Australia at his cricketing home was suitable compensation.
Hodge had arrived in the 23rd over and showed more patience than a dutiful husband in his first 40 balls as he scored 23. His opening boundary arrived three overs later and the domination was soon intense. After collecting his second ODI fifty he moved into a gear that Australian first-class attacks have become familiar with. In 29 balls he pounded 49 runs with four fours and a brilliant six over long-on off James Franklin.
Ponting departed for 104 and Michael Hussey, the modern day iceman, also went, but Hodge was not concerned. He rushed to the finish, soaked in the crowd buzz and his path to the dressing room was interrupted only by a boundary-side television interview. "To win a game at the MCG is a dream come true," he smiled.
The performance earned Hodge a spot in the best-of-three finals against England and he will return to the ground on Friday wanting to build on his gains. His spot in the line-up currently rests on the fitness of the side's major weapons, but he has earned some more travel and should be part of the World Cup. From there he can make a claim to add to his five Tests and the remarkable average of 58.42.
The numbers game
Hodge is second on the list of Pura Cup run-scorers this summer with 765 at 85.00 and is fifth in the domestic one-day competition with 361 at 72.20.
What they say
"He is a quality player. He is 32 but to me that's mid-career and he can have four really good years in all forms of the game if luck goes his way at international level. He's a good striker of the ball, a sensible cricketer who is at the peak of his game." Allan Border
"You don't hang a bloke on one innings. His form in the last couple of weeks, well, the last five years has been fantastic." Merv Hughes after Hodge's zero in Brisbane
What he says
"It's a dream come true and I am loving every moment of it.''
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo