Assembly line is dishing out batsmen who average 30: Brad Hodge
Hodge explains why waiting for a call-up to the national team didn't make sense to him anymore, how the Australian team desperately needed a revamp, why the CLT20 is not a real 'Champions League' and much, much more.
Brad Hodge's story is like that of many others, with a lack of vacancies in his national team meaning that he spent his peak years on the sidelines. But Hodge has since reinvented himself as a Twenty20 specialist and is one of the legends of the format, much in demand across the world and busy travelling from one country to another. A knee injury dashed his hopes of playing in the recent Champions League Twenty20 2013 final for Rajasthan Royals, and now he will have to try and get fit as soon as possible for his other engagements.
Speaking to Wisden India, Hodge explained why waiting for a call-up to the national team didn't make sense to him anymore, how the Australian team desperately needed a revamp, why the CLT20 is not a real 'Champions League' and much, much more. Excerpts:
There's never a good time to have an injury, but this one's particularly bad, and you're almost 39, not getting any younger ...
Yeah, it's come at a very bad time. But it's one of those unfortunate things that happen in sport - bit of bad luck, bad timing. It happens. It's not often you get a chance to play in a final, such a big final [CLT20 2013], but unfortunate things happen.
I guess I'll see a specialist back home in Melbourne, get a little bit of treatment and probably stay out for about ten weeks. Then I have some cricket lined up in New Zealand, some Twenty20s with Auckland Aces. Hopefully, I can get fit for that. Then there's the Big Bash, so hopefully the knee is not too bad and I can get fit for all of that.
Do you accept that your second coming as a T20 specialist is something that you were forced into?
Well, it was probably not forced, but I think that I forced myself to only play T20s. The reason being that I played for so long in the Sheffield Shield and one-day cricket that I had given up trying to play for Australia. I thought T20 cricket was something I was good at, something I wanted to do and ... a big aspect was also my family. T20 cricket gives you a good chance to spend time with the kids. In the pursuit of trying to represent Australia, I missed the first two years of my son's life. I felt I shouldn't do the same thing to my daughter, especially because I realised that playing for Australia was never going to happen again. Yeah, I started by saying it wasn't forced, but I suppose it was a bit forced in some ways.
How do people like you, and so many others, deal with being left out when you know you are good enough to play international cricket?
I did play six Test matches and 25 one-dayers and eight T20s, and I am comfortable with that. We had such good players that if someone was not in form, we could carry those players. It was very rare that (Justin) Langer, (Matthew) Hayden, (Ricky) Ponting, (Damien) Martyn, (Adam) Gilchrist, (Andrew) Symonds, (Mike) Hussey, (Darren) Lehmann were all out of form. Even if there was one that was not in form, it didn't matter because we were still winning Test matches by a mile. You kept people in the side and sooner or later he'd be back in form, and everything would be fine.
I am privileged to have played with that group of players as well. Life's interesting. There was a time when I thought it was the most important thing in life, playing for Australia, but it's not. There are a lot of other things that contribute to your life and make you the person you are. Maybe my fate of not playing enough Test match cricket brought me here. I love playing T20 cricket. I love playing in the IPL. It's just a different path. I would have loved to play 60 Test matches and not six, but it didn't happen. I know it's not because I wasn't good enough. If I weren't good enough, I wouldn't have a Test average of over 55 [55.88]. It's just ... circumstances, like this knee injury. The problem is that four guys choose your fate - the selectors. There are no rules or regulations that if you average 55 in Sheffield Shield cricket then you play for Australia. It's just how it is.
Looking at the Australian team now, you were probably just born ten years too early ...
Yeah, people tell me that if I had been playing now, I might ... but that's not how it works. I am probably a better player now because I have to be better. At the moment, you might make a good 50 in Sheffield Shield and the selectors will pick you. I had to hit 150 ...
You had to average 50 ...
Absolutely ... and that forced me to be a better player. I wouldn't be picked if I were average. I had to be good. I am happy about that because my skills are pretty good and I can show everyone what I can do. I guess I am being rewarded now for working so hard without getting too much by way of returns.
Is that what makes you such a prolific scorer in T20s?
I guess so. I have been lucky to be in good teams too, but yeah, I guess I had the skills needed for Twenty20 cricket.
And Rajasthan's probably the only team where you have two people older than you [Rahul Dravid and Pravin Tambe]!
(Laughs) Yeah ... oh, but I don't have any issue with age. As long as you're fit and playing well and you're mentally tough and you're ready, then age shouldn't matter. I would rather have some level of experience in my team than not. Any experience you can have in your team is like gold, especially in a tough competition like the IPL. Youngsters these days are so carefree, you're not quite sure what you're going to get.
With Rajasthan, we are chosen for a reason. It doesn't matter what your age is or where you are from. We are chosen to do a job and we do it as well as we can. There's no surprise that Tambe is there. He has been chosen to do exactly what he is doing, like Ajit (Chandila) earlier. There are lots of players in the team who haven't played for India or Australia, but ... I think we are all waking up to the fact that in T20, anyone can play a role. You can be six-and-a-half feet and hit the ball a 100 metres or you could be Rahul Dravid or someone else. Tambe might not get a wicket if he bowled 50 overs in a Test match, but his skills are good for T20s.
Coming to the CLT20, did it hurt that Perth Scorchers and Brisbane Heat, the Australian teams, were so poor? This regulation of players being bought off by IPL teams - is that something you agree with?
I think it was extremely disappointing, but those are the rules and that's the way it pans out. The good thing is that these teams are producing players who are representing IPL sides; that means they are doing something right. If Melbourne Stars had made it, we would have lost Cameron White and me ... just the way it is.
But that doesn't make it a level playing field.
No, it doesn't. It probably isn't a true Champions League in that sense, the way it is in football. It's not the best team in the world versus the best team in the world if you lose players.
Is there a way around this?
I don't think so. It's weird ... but I don't think anyone should be compensated. The players should have a choice. But then, having said that, I would choose Rajasthan over Melbourne. I don't know how the other guys would feel.
How do you approach your career at a time like now, when there is a lot of churning; do you just get in and get what you can out of it while you can?
Yeah, well ... I don't know about the administration side of it, I am just here to play cricket, but I think what they need to do is try and define what exactly they want to achieve with the game - keep T20 going or get Test match cricket back on track. There's a place for One-Day Internationals, but I think it should be 40-over cricket and not 50-over cricket, like they were trying in England.
Why 40-over cricket, that's neither here nor there?
(Laughs) Yes, but it's just that I found it quite okay. Even I find that middle period in one-day cricket boring as hell. That ten-over period where people just knock it around for singles - that's rubbish. When they played 40-40, they took that out to a large extent. In my mind, it makes sense to go from 20-20 to 40-40 and then to Test cricket. The administrators need to look at where they want cricket to be in the next decade or two decades and figure out the right balance.
And where will you be in the next decade?
In the next decade ... wow! I certainly won't be playing, but I'll hopefully be making some of those decisions on cricket.
You mean administration - is that something that appeals to you?
Yeah, I have two subjects left to finish off my MBA in sports management. It is probably something I will do seriously. Whether it's with cricket or AFL (Australian Football League) or tennis or rugby I don't know. I love cricket. But administration is something that appeals to me.
In terms of cricket, I will give it my best shot for the next two years for whichever team I play for. I have three fun teams that I play with - Rajasthan Royals, Melbourne Stars and Barisal Burners ... and Auckland Aces as well, but I haven't played much for them yet. I enjoyed my time with all of these teams and also enjoyed captaining Barisal. I guess it means a lot to me to be involved and contributing. I feel a part of these teams and maybe Auckland Aces will become that as well.
Everyone keeps saying that Rajasthan Royals is a happy team to be a part of, but it couldn't have been nice when the spot-fixing episode was taking place?
Well, there's very little I can say on that. The anti-corruption officials are not there because of their good looks, corruption must happen. But I think it must happen on the international stage too, and it's happened on the international stage in the past. I don't know why these tournaments get singled out. We must be mindful and be careful that it doesn't happen again or too often. We must make sure the game is right for the kids coming through ... it wasn't a nice experience being part of Rajasthan when that happened. But the good thing is that the good guys shone through and the team soldiered on. We have won with them (the banned players) and have now won without them.
We cricket journalists often get sniggers from our friends who feel that all of the IPL is scripted; must happen with cricketers too?
It does happen, but I am not sure if it's fair to say that. One incident doesn't ... it's a tough question to answer; maybe the anti-corruption guys can answer that. They must know, I guess. I'd like to think that that's not how it is. I'd be very disappointed if that was the case.
To return to the Australian team before wrapping up - it's not looking too good, is it, and there's another Ashes series coming up?
No, it doesn't look good at all. And as I pointed out before, the assembly line is dishing out batsmen who average 30. That's just not good enough. They come to the Test level and struggle. The bowling is better but there are so many injuries. Things don't seem to be working at all in Australian cricket, and we need to get back on track. Lehmann's there now and hopefully he will get things in shape the way he wants to. This ODI series in India is very important. If we get flogged here and walk into the Ashes thinking we would win, we have another thing coming. We're talking the Ashes up, but we haven't won a series in the last five. We need to start winning somewhere. It has to start sooner or later, but something needs to happen. We need a revamp, some desperation, a spark, but I don't know where it's coming from.