Cricket: Border duties for Katich in the new Australia

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THE ANNOUNCEMENT of any sporting team compels armchairs thinkers to begin to believe that they know all about the intricate workings of the minds of selectors. The latest effort from Australia's cricket selectors, whose musings have propelled the nation to No 1 in both forms of the game, is suitably mind challenging.

Immediate interest in the Test squad to challenge Sri Lanka then Zimbabwe next month (and the one-day side) is aroused by a no-name - the sacking of opener Matthew Elliott; an old name - Matthew Hayden; and two new names - Simon Katich and Andrew Symonds.

Katich, about to turn 24, is a left-handed batsman at his best in the middle order and about to play his fourth season with the Sheffield Shield champions, Western Australia. In his debut Shield match against Queensland he plugged an end while his captain Tom Moody scored the bulk of a 209 partnership that extricated the West from a cricketing version of quicksand. Last summer he scored five centuries on the way to 1,000 runs, and averaged 60-plus. This vote for the young, gritty Katich is a vote of no confidence in Darren Lehmann, now perceived as too careless for Tests. It means also that the brilliant Michael Bevan, a faultless one-day player, can erase a Test comeback from his wish-list.

Katich is the chosen one, the player the selectors believe has the talent and, most importantly, the temperament to play the hair-shirt roles Allan Border, David Boon and Steve Waugh were famous for. Time will tell.

If cricket were ever to be granted "soapie" status, the adventures of Elliott and Hayden would demand a script. For four seasons, pushed along by a thick-headed media campaign, each was regularly touted as the obvious left-handed replacement for Mark Taylor. Neither was ever ready, mentally.

"Shot selection" is one of those cricketing terms that can provoke a collective flinch at a gathering of the game's non-worshippers but at the selection table it is one of the Ten Commandments. Elliot, a strong hooker, reacted to criticism of dismissal-by-hook shot by trying to eliminate it; Hayden had a penchant for being caught in the gully and to eliminate that he started letting go balls that occasionally hit his stumps or his pads, fatally in line.

The resurrection of Hayden sends two messages: Australia are struggling for a `balanced" opener to link with Michael Slater and the selectors think Hayden is tougher mentally than Elliott. Predicting cricket is as safe as driving on an oil slick, but down the line keep an eye out for an opener named Corey Richards.

A freakish development contributed to Hayden beating Elliott: in the off-season there was a coaching clinic for spinners in India and, as Greg Blewett has a weak technique against spin, Australia proposed he should attend as a batsman. He couldn't, and when Hayden heard he urged the selectors to send him. They did, and noted his desire got tougher.

Readers already know Symonds - by now he could have played for England and been discarded. Where is Martin McCague? A few summers ago, when Ray Illingworth was courting Symonds, the youngster preferred the tough option: stay with Australia, keep trying to better your game and you'll get your chance.

Batting will be his role in the one-day team and he is simply Viv Richards' class in the field. Perhaps he will loop, or dart a few offies. There is no reason why he cannot become an impact batsman at, say, No 4 at Test level. After all this has been the recent way of Australian selection: introduce rookies via the one-day game. It's like a Derby horse being given a run in a 1,000m sprint.

The injury-prone, but very fast, Jason Gillespie is back to bolster a fast bowling attack that is ageing. Watch out for Brett Lee, the brother of World Cup player Shane. He is a bit expensive but can swing the ball away and he's quick. Very quick.

These two Australian combinations face about nine weeks on tour and most intriguing will be the ongoing thrust and parry between the leg-spinners Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, which could again unsettle the team's spirit. Warne did himself no favours with his post-World Cup hint of retirement, then the announ-cement that he'd play on. The public have expressed annoyance at his inclination to cry wolf.

Sri Lanka is the first leg and there are five one-dayers before the Tests. That offers Warne an advantage as MacGill will have only one warm-up before the First Test. It would be odd if the tour selectors, of whom vice-captain Warne is one, decided to play all three spinners - the leggies plus off-spinner Colin Miller - in the warm-up because for Miller and MacGill, short of match practice, the tactic could be restrictive.

A more bizarre scenario is this: imagine if Steve Waugh, having captained in all five one-day matches, were to stand aside from the Test warm-up and hand over to Warne. There would certainly be maximum interest in the stand-in captain's handling of his spin attack.

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