By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Brad Hodge – T20 cricket’s highest run-getter - is one of the unluckiest crickets in modern times. The Australian, who scored 48 not out off 21 balls to mastermind Rajasthan Royal’s sensational win over Deccan Chargers on Monday, saw years of consistency and heaps of runs in domestic cricket yielding just six Australian Test caps. History bears testimony to the fact that a number of highly talented players like Padmakar Shivalkar, Rajinder Goel and Franklyn Stephenson - to name a few - never played Test cricket. Others such as Stuart MacGill had to settle for being a back-up option to a greater player. Hodge’s falls somewhere in between the two categories.
Over the last few years, Hodge has acquired a reputation as one of the most dangerous players in the T20 arena with compelling performances in a number of 20-20 leagues around the world. That a player who could have been a success in the classical format should be remembered only for his exploits in a much cruder game makes Hodge’s tragic case all the more sad.
The jury would be divided over the predicament of Hodge’s international career. Some may pin the blame upon bad luck, while others may accuse the Australian selectors of poor management. However, both factors played pivotal roles at different stages to deny him a longer international career.
Hodge’s introduction into first-class cricket was spectacular; he scored over a 991 runs in his first season (1993-94) for Victoria. It was in the early 2000s his prolific form enhanced his claims for a spot in the Australian team. However, this productive period clashed with an all-conquering Australian side under Steve Waugh, who led batting line-up that had the likes of Mathew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Mike Hussey.
The void left by Waugh after his retirement was filled by the then youthful Michael Clarke. During Australia’s tour to India in 2004, Hodge and Clarke were competitors for a spot in the playing eleven and the selectors preferred the youngster. Clarke’s brilliant hundred on debut brushed aside the dilemma as Australia looked to him for greater things.
The coveted baggy green was finally awarded to Hodge when West Indies travelled to Australia in October 2005. The start to his Test career was fantastic as he scored a fifty on debut and followed it up with a double hundred in his third Test - giving one the impression that the domestic exploits would spill into the international arena. The 203 not out was scored against a formidable South African pace attack at Perth – the fastest pitch in the world. However, that wasn’t enough to cement his place as the selectors axed him two Tests later. He may not have scored too many runs in those games and dropping him looked an extreme conclusion.
In 2008, Hodge was in the Australian Test team for the tour of the Caribbean. In the first Test, he scored a fifty and yet found himself on the sidelines for the next two encounters. That was his last game for Australia as he was dropped for the tour of India later that year. A frustrated Hodge said “"Unfortunately I don't select any sides, certainly not the Australian side, otherwise I'd be over there now."
The timeline of his One-Day International (ODI) career may be longer, but it was also plagued with similar factors. Prior to the 2007 World Cup, things seemed to fall in place as good performances during the Australian one-day summer won him a place in the squad for the big event. He appeared in a couple of league games and scored a hundred against Netherlands. However, that was his last innings of the tournament as he didn’t get a bat in the three games he played after that and had to sit out during the other matches. In October 2007, Hodge played a full ODI series in India which was a very unproductive outing. The seventh ODI at Mumbai was his last.
Even after this phase, Hodge continued to remain a force in domestic cricket. Consider this: in his final two seasons in first-class cricket he averaged 61.76 and 69.00. Furthermore, in one-day cricket he averaged 52.00, 62.22 and 69.11 in his last three seasons and yet the Australian selectors continued to ignore him.
T20 cricket has taken him around the world and Australia haven’t utilised his skills in the format as much as the other teams have. His T20 international career was limited to just eight games. Although, T20 cricket is considered a young man’s game, there are numerous players who have defied the age-convention and have performed brilliantly in the shortest format. Hodge’s compatriot and namesake, Brad Hogg is a case in point. If Hogg could make a comeback at 40, a 35+ Hodge could have easily been given a spot in the T20 side.
Despite scoring a mountain of runs, there came a phase where Hodge accepted his fate and embraced the possibility that his efforts wouldn’t get him bigger honours. In the middle of a prolific domestic season, when asked about an international call-up he remarked, “I think I've got more chance of winning the Melbourne Cup in a couple of weeks.” That sums up his career.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)