Australian Brad Hodge during day four of the first Test match against South Africa in Perth in 2005.
Australian Brad Hodge during day four of the first Test match against South Africa in Perth in 2005. TONY MCDONOUGH

'It hurts when people bring it up'

CRICKET: Brad Hodge has every right to be furious.

He will go down in Australian cricket history as one of the unluckiest players to ever wear the Baggy Green, donning the famous cap six times in a Test career many will say deserved to last a lot longer than it did.

After dominating Shield cricket for more than a decade, he made his Test debut in November 2005, replacing Damien Martyn, who had been dropped following a lean Ashes campaign that winter.

He scored 60 in his first ever dig against the West Indies in Hobart, then two games later plundered an unbeaten 203 against South Africa in Perth. Here was a man who had been overlooked for 10 years finally making his mark in a game he always knew he was good enough to play.

But two Tests later his dream was cruelly cut short. In his fifth Test against the Proteas in Sydney he recorded scores of six and 27 not out, but despite amassing more than 400 runs that summer at an average of 58, selectors decided that series would be his last.

Sure, he went on to play one more Test against the West Indies in 2008 (where he scored 67 and 27 to finalise his stats at 502 runs from six games), but that was just as a fill-in for an unavailable Michael Clarke.

After that home series against Graeme Smith's men, the next assignment was a return tour to South Africa. Hodge was out and Martyn was recalled. It was tough to cop.

"It hurts when people bring it up,” Hodge told Mark Howard on the latest episode of the broadcaster's podcast series The Howie Games.

"I look back and I've digested it many times, and the one thing that kills me is I only ever got out below 23 three times ... that hurt.

"You feel when you get dropped that you're under pressure, playing the game when you feel like you're out of form. I just never felt that.

"One of the things that hurts is if you read those numbers out, I thought that's what Australian cricket wanted from me, and I don't think I could be any better.”

Victorian batsman Brad Hodge celebrates reaching a century in the 2006 Sheffield Shield final.
Victorian batsman Brad Hodge celebrates reaching a century in the 2006 Sheffield Shield final. DAVE HUNT

Hodge was hurt and Australia was confused. What did he do to deserve such harsh treatment from cricket's most notorious villains - the selectors?

Players often say selectors tell them all they need do is score runs and take wickets. Predictably, Hodge copped that - more often than he would have liked.

"You'd say to a young kid, 'If you want to play cricket for Australia and stay in the team, go get yourself 500 runs in six games and I'm pretty sure that'll be on track,'” Hodge said.

"That's what I said to the selectors. I said, 'I'm on track for 1000 runs in a season and only the legends do that.' That's what I couldn't understand at the time, and I never have actually.

"Keep going and make runs ... after a while you just get sick of hearing that crap. It's a load of rubbish.”

But speaking to Howard, the 41-year-old opened up on the one honest conversation he had with selector David Boon about his axing a year after it happened.

"David Boon, it was about a year down the track, it was after (playing for) Australia A. We were in Cairns in the Qantas Club or somewhere around there, and I sat with him and I just had to ask. I said, 'Mate, what happened? Why did I actually get dropped?,'” Hodge said.

"'Was it because I nicked one or was it that ball I should have hooked in Sydney where it was the last ball of the day when I got caught at bat pad?'

"After a while he said, 'You know what, we just chose Damien Martyn over you.' Simple as that, for no reason, and that probably hurt even more.”

At the time, Martyn - playing for Western Australia - wasn't exactly pushing his case for a Test recall, struggling in the Sheffield Shield. But he came back in South Africa to score a half century in the first Test and a match-winning ton in the second Test. In a way, the selectors' call had been vindicated.

He retired just a few Tests later after Australia beat England in Adelaide. Hodge, meanwhile, would only be called upon to wear the Baggy Green one more time.

"At the time Damien Martyn was averaging 14 in Shield cricket, but he's such a wonderful player,” Hodge said.

"The one thing I always tell people personally, which I struggle with, is the selectors didn't have the courage to say, 'You know what, we know Marto's a legend of the game but this guy's come in for us and got 500 runs, and we have to give that guy another chance.' And that never happened. It breaks your heart really.”

Brad Hodge plays a shot for the Strikers in the Big Bash.
Brad Hodge plays a shot for the Strikers in the Big Bash. DAVID MARIUZ

The big talking point in his career apart from his double hundred was the six he scored in the first innings of the Sydney Test. Andre Nel was bowling the last ball of the day and made a big show of taking his time to alter the field, bringing in a short leg. All signs pointed to him bowling a bouncer - it was telegraphed.

After a long hold-up, the quick sent down what everyone expected. It was short, but Hodge played it awfully, getting in a tangle and popping up a simple catch to Jacques Rudolph under the helmet.

Many thought that one dismissal was the reason behind Hodge's demise. Never mind his first-class and Test records, maybe the selectors had in their heads Hodge couldn't play the short ball.

But now we know that wasn't the case.

Hodge's career is coming to a close after he revealed season 2016-17 in the Big Bash League may be his last. His Shield and 50-over days are long gone and he's turned himself into a T20 gun for hire - a remarkably successful one at that.

If this is the last summer the Australian cricket public will have to watch the elegant right-hander in action, he'll be hoping our last memory is of him holding up a trophy alongside his Adelaide Strikers teammates.



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