Hodge ready for Nannes face-off
Dirk Nannes to Brad Hodge. That's the likely scenario for Victoria's first ball at the Champions League Twenty20 but the coach Greg Shipperd said he was confident Shane Harwood and Peter Siddle could stand up as a new-ball combination in the absence of Nannes, one of the most fearsome Twenty20 bowlers in the world.
Nannes was born and bred in Victoria and has been a key part of their formidable Twenty20 record but at the Champions League he will be playing for his IPL side, Delhi Daredevils, who Victoria face in their opening match. Shipperd said the depth of Victoria's fast-bowling quality was one of their strengths and they had the players to cover for Nannes.
"Shane Harwood not that many weeks ago had a shoulder cleanup and he's come through his preparations very well," Shipperd said. "He's an absolute key for us. Peter Siddle, who hasn't played a lot of Twenty20 cricket at all for Victoria now becomes a weapon for us.
"It's a magnificent opportunity for Peter. He's in good form at the moment and forms with Shane a world-class opening combination. We do have a world-class opening combination with the bat and to have one with the ball is also absolutely critical."
Cameron White and David Hussey are key men but the most important player in the batting order is Hodge, who will open. Hodge, 34, can't find a place in the Australian team in any format but he has a reputation as one of the world's premier Twenty20 batsman, averaging 41.60 at a strike-rate of 132 from 68 games.
Hodge said he was not feeling any extra pressure despite being one of the most accomplished players in the 12-team competition. But his personal success is critical to Victoria's chances and with one of Delhi, Victoria and Wayamba dropping out after the cut-throat group stage, much will rest on the start Hodge gives Victoria against Nannes.
"It's going to be a reality and the chances are I'll be taking the first ball against him," Hodge said. "It's something we can't get around and I'll just be looking forward to the competition.
"There's a lot of talent out there. But I think if you look at our squad, we've got a number of internationals who've played as well. We've got a lot of experience. I think our batting is definitely a strength and we've just got to use that. If you stacked up our batting against anyone else's in the competition, it's as good as any."
Victoria have won the Australian domestic Twenty20 title three of the four years it has been held, and have only ever lost three matches in the format. They are playing down their chances on the world stage but are quietly confident that their steady, familiar group can match the mish-mash of players in IPL teams.
"I think a par result would certainly be to qualify for the second round," Shipperd said. "That would be a lovely opportunity to move into that and have three more games of cricket. Everyone's going to be a little bit nervous in the first couple of games. This has been a project four years in the making ... but certainly we're going there to win, no doubt about that."
The Victorians fly out for India on Friday morning and they will be without one of their original 15-man squad, the fast bowler Damien Wright. He has been ruled out with a calf strain and will be replaced by the young allrounder James Pattinson.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo