Sublime Hodge dominates

Brad Hodge became the fifth Australian to make his debut century a double, as Australia took a firm stranglehold on proceedings on day 4 at the WACA.

Australia began the day in a strong position, with Michael Hussey partnering Hodge at the crease and the Victorian batsman just 9 runs short of a century, but it was Pollock who struck an early blow for his side, dismissing Hussey in the opening moments of the day. Andrew Symonds came to the crease struggling to justify his continued selection in the test side, and despite some improvements on previous efforts and some lovely shots through the off-side, he never looked comfortable at the crease and guided a nothing shot to Gibbs at a wide first slip on 25. Before that, however, he provided useful support to Hodge, as the new number four cemented his place in the Australian team for the near future by bringing up a fighting century.

Much had been made of Australia’s inexperienced middle order before the test began, but it was that same middle order that took the game away from South Africa in the end, as 193 runs were added for the 5th and 6th wickets. Hodge was joined by Gilchrist with the lead at a healthy 341, and South Africa in need of quick wickets to keep the game alive. Gilchrist gave an early chance but it was spilled at slip, and then began to punish the bowling in his usual style. He made 44 runs, despite never looking close to his best form, and by the time he fell the lead was over 400 and Hodge was past 150, with a South African victory all but impossible.

As the tea break rapidly approached, Hodge began to branch out further, seeking quick runs before an inevitable declaration. He lost Warne early, but Nathan Bracken provided the necessary support, facing just 24 deliveries in an unbeaten stand of 77 for the 9th wicket, as Hodge took on the bowling at the other end without risk, and raced to a brilliant double century before Ponting called the Australians off the field.

His innings was one which will live long in the memory of those who saw it. Hodge has been a stalwart at the top of run scoring lists in Australian domestic cricket for a decade, but had never got any international opportunities until this summer. He had also, despite his domestic success, never scored runs in any quantity at the WACA, so it was especially fitting that he would overcome his problems in Perth at the same time as he silenced the critics who have claimed he was not good enough for test cricket.

Hodge progressed from a war of attrition against accurate seam bowling on the third afternoon to a blistering assault before tea on day four, and eventually his 202 runs took him just 332 deliveries.

South Africa were forced to bat for over a session before the close of play, facing Warne, Lee and McGrath in fading light. It was never likely to be an easy task, and Warne in particular bowled brilliantly, displaying all his tricks and his famous love for the big occasion on a crumbling pitch. It was the leg-spinner who got the opening breakthrough, as AB de Villiers pushed forward unwisely and gave a regulation bat-pad catch to Brad Hodge.

Nathan Bracken too was dangerous, finding some conventional and even reverse swing before the close of play, and trapping Graeme Smith in front with a classic left-armers dismissal, LBW to one that straightened slightly. Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Rudolph sought to defend at all costs before stumps, and despite several close calls and some brilliant bowling from Warne they managed to survive until the light was offered.

Australia will need eight wickets on the final day to take a 1-0 series lead, while South Africa have little to hope for beyond 90 overs of grim survival and a draw.

Australia – 258
Ricky Ponting 71, Brad Hodge 41
Makhaya Ntini 5/64, Andre Nel 3/29

South Africa – 296
AB De Villiers 68, Mark Boucher 62
Brett Lee 5/93, Shane Warne 3/92

Australia – 8/528 dec.
Brad Hodge 203*, Michael Hussey 58
Charl Langeveldt 3/117, Shaun Pollock 2/98

South Africa – 2/85
Graeme Smith 30, Jacques Rudolph 18*
Nathan Bracken 1/14, Shane Warne 1/27

Australia lead by 405 runs with 1 day to play.
The 3 test series is tied at 0-0

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