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Clarke's crisis puts Hodge on tour duty

Brad Hodge has been called away from the Indian Premier League and into Australia's Test squad, while Simon Katich appears the most likely to take Michael Clarke's place in the batting line-up.

Clarke has been granted compassionate leave by Cricket Australia due to the ill health of Graham Bingle, father of his fiancee Lara, and will not be with the team when it leaves for the West Indies from Sydney tonight.

The vice-captain left the Brisbane training camp early to be with his fiancee after his father-in-law, who is suffering from liver cancer, took a turn for the worse in recent days.

Clarke was one of the few Australian players who rejected the enormous amounts on offer to play in the Indian Premier League, opting to spend the time with Lara and his family.

His father Les was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and the cricketer said he wanted a chance to "go fishing with the old man".

"I made the decision for my body and to spend time with my dad," he said this week. "It was really nice to be able to spend some time with my family and Lara - it was fantastic for both of us to spend some time together before I headed off on this tour."

Clarke injured a hamstring at the Brisbane training camp but that had no impact on his decision to remain behind.

"It is true that I have left the camp early," he said in a prepared statement yesterday. "I will not be travelling to the West Indies with the team, due to family reasons.

"I am looking forward to getting over there as early as possible. Both Lara and I would appreciate both courtesy and privacy during this time. Thanks in advance for your understanding and support.

"When I know more I will advise accordingly."

Michael Hussey has been appointed vice-captain in Clarke's absence.

"Despite the circumstances it is a huge honour to be given the role," Hussey said, "even if it may only be for a short period of time."

Cricket Australia's national selection panel had an emergency meeting last night and chairman Andrew Hilditch announced that Hodge, who is competing in the IPL, would act as a "shadow player" for Clarke.

"Brad has had another strong domestic season with the Victorian Bushrangers in all forms of the game. He is still very highly regarded by the national selection panel and this provides him with another opportunity to be involved with the Australian squad," Hilditch said.

Hodge is expected to join his team-mates in either Dubai or London after they leave Australia.

The Australians play a three-day warm-up game against a Jamaica XI starting on Friday. The first of three Tests begins the following Thursday.

Pace bowler Mitchell Johnson said yesterday he was looking forward to cementing his position in Australia's Test attack by tormenting the West Indies' bevy of left-handers.

Johnson enjoyed a solid Test introduction last season, taking 24 wickets at 32, but knows he still has more to do to nail down his place alongside Brett Lee and Stuart Clark.

Only injury will prevent the 26-year-old left-armer starting the three-match series against the West Indies but his first overseas Test tour will provide a key indicator of his future.

"It was a big summer, my first real big summer - playing Tests, and one-dayers and Twenty20. I wouldn't say I feel like I nailed a spot there, but it's given me a bit more confidence playing out the summer," he said.

Although he regularly bowled long spells for skipper Ricky Ponting without flinching and chipped in with key wickets, Johnson's lack of inswing to right-handers was a concern in his first six Tests.

At his pace of around 140km/h, swing is a key tool for the Queenslander and he was far more dangerous getting the ball to move away from Indian and Sri Lankan left-handers.

The West Indies line-up is packed full of left-handers, led by batting kingpins Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, on top of Sewnarine Chattergoon, Ryan Hinds and Devon Smith.

"I like bowling to left-handers. That will help my swing a little bit, the more left-handers the better," Johnson said.

"I have been working on it, but I'm not going to go out in games and be too worried about it. If it's swinging, it's swinging."

source - news.com.au
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