Hodge eyes allrounder's slot
For two years Brad Hodge has been the nearly man of Australian cricket
For two years Brad Hodge has been the nearly man of Australian cricket. He was famously dropped despite scoring a double-century against South Africa at Perth in December 2005, and his appearances in the one-day scene have been fitful. Until his recent call-up in the CB Series, he had played just five matches in 13 months.
Now, however, Andrew Symonds' bicep injury has given Hodge, 32, a chance to push for a permanent place in the batting order, and on the evidence of his performance against Scotland on Wednesday, he will have to earn his keep as an allrounder. "I always knew the potential was there, but it's just something that's never really been tapped into for Victoria," Hodge said after taking 1 for 17 - his maiden international wicket - in six tidy overs of offspin.
"I've bowled a fair bit for Lancashire, but I've never been tested at this level. It's interesting and I'm enjoying the challenge. If you can bat, bowl and field then that gives you a good chance to stay in the side and represent Australia in both forms of the game."
Hodge's performance, which included 29 runs, helped Australia power to a 203-run victory in their opening fixture of the tournament against Scotland, a display he described as "very business-like". And his efforts certainly impressed Ricky Ponting, who preferred him to the usual part-time fare of Michael Clarke. "Conditions over here certainly do favour spin bowling and we've got some good spin bowlers," Hodge said. "It's nice for a captain to have options."
All the same, Hodge knows from experience that he cannot take his current run in the side for granted. With Symonds itching to get back into action after his six-week lay-off, the match against Holland on Sunday has suddenly assumed extra significance. "Nothing's a formality in my mind," he said. "I'm batting in Symonds' position, and he's just been named as one of Australia's all-time greatest players in one-day cricket. So my job is just to try and stay in the side as long as possible.
"If I can bowl, and bowl well, and give Ricky an option, it's certainly going to pose a couple of good problems later on down the line. I'm just trying to play the best cricket possible. I'm really enjoying being here and a part of the team."
The fact that Hodge is being tested as a viable bowling option so late on in Australia's preparations suggests that the side is unsure of their best line-up, but he denied this was the case. "I know as a batsman I wouldn't want to face our attack," he said. "It's pretty devastating at times, and it's just a matter of finding that recipe on any given day. Someone can have a good day, someone can have a bad day, and if Australia continue to have good days, we've got a formidable attack.
"Brett Lee's role is filled by Shaun Tait. He's done a pretty good job, and he could come on leaps and bounds in this tournament. In years to come, people could look back and think: 'How good was Tait in that World Cup?' We'll just have to wait and see."
Hodge is resigned to his fate if the selectors decide he must make way for Symonds, but he feels his recent extended run - he's been ever-present for the last eight ODIs and made two unbeaten 90s and a 49 - will stand him in good stead for any future recalls. "It's very hard to put in performances when you get a spasmodic game, but Andrew's injury gave me another chance, and I've played well," he said. "It's good to have that confidence, knowing that if I'm called upon again, I've had some positive results."
Hodge at least has the backing of a significant member of Australia's elite. "Steve Waugh said before I left this would be a good venue for me," he said. "He thought I'd be well-suited to West Indian conditions because it's a fraction slower and I'd adapt quite well. I feel I've made some good inroads in the last few matches but it'll take a couple of good performances around the corner to really make my mark on international cricket."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo