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Hodge leaves Riders in dark

Brad Hodge's abrupt exit to the West Indies has left Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders in the dark.

The team's officials have no idea when the Victorian star will return.

Hodge was called up to the Australian Test squad, which left Sydney last night for the eight-week trip, after Michael Clarke decided to stay at home in Sydney with fiancee Lara Bingle and her family.

Bingle's father, Graham, is battling terminal pancreatic cancer and is in hospital.

Frustrated Kolkata officials want to know as soon as possible whether Clarke will take part in the tour.

Hodge is expected to be released from Test duties if Clarke joins the touring party.

Hodge has only just started to play for the Knight Riders after temporarily leaving English county side Lancashire for a lucrative five-week deal in the IPL to replace Australian captain Ricky Ponting.

Kolkata's team director Joy Bhattacharya yesterday said he was hopeful Hodge, who has just 12 runs at an average of four in three matches, would rejoin the team.

The Victorian batsman was to link with his Australian teammates at a stopover in Dubai overnight as they make their way to Kingston, Jamaica, for the opening Test.

Cricket Australia officials had to make a mad scramble to gather Hodge's baggy green cap and cricket clothing from his Melbourne home so it could be taken on the team flight.

Hodge yesterday said he was looking forward to the trip.

"It's good that selectors have recognised me as the next player in line, I am happy about that," he said.

"It's disappointing the circumstances around the selection. My thoughts are with Michael and Lara.

"Hopefully I can get an opportunity to push my case when I get over there."

At this stage, Hodge's hopes of adding to his five Tests are slim. NSW skipper Simon Katich was already the reserve batsman and seems all but assured of joining the XI if a specialist batsman is chosen.

Australian coach Tim Nielsen yesterday flagged a plan to promote rookie wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to No.6 in the batting order and unleash five specialist bowlers in the opening Test, beginning May 22.

And Nielsen has not ruled out Clarke being available for the first Test.

Nielsen said he would give Clarke, who was handed the national vice-captaincy last month, every opportunity to be selected for the Test at Jamaica's Sabina Park, starting on May 22.

"But it's in the hands of Michael. We'll see how he sorts himself out with his family issues. He's got some important stuff he needs to deal with and when he does that, hopefully he will be back in camp," he said.

"If he gets over for the first Test, he will need some preparation, but as the Test gets closer we'll make some decisions and work out where he is at."

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