Cool Katich happy to be the middle man on the quiet

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Katich is unconcerned by this state of relative anonymity. "I don't do anything flamboyant," he says. "That's the way I play the game. I try to be solid I guess. It's about my nature."

Since he has batted well for Durham, Yorkshire and Hampshire, the name is vaguely familiar in England. It became more so last week-end, when 67 in Australia's second innings put the game out of England's reach.

Katich was 10 not out and Australia 278 for 7 when play began on the third day. He had heard England players saying they could wrap up Australia's second innings in half an hour or so. He thought that another 40 or 50 runs would be a good result. As it turned out, the last three wickets added 105, more than half of them from his bat.

The forbidding lesson from Lord's is that Australia's middle order, which exhibits so much more tensile strength than England's, can carry away the whole series. The name Katich may well be a lot more familiar by the end of the series.

He comes from the Swann River Valley outside Perth, and first established a reputation with Western Australia, where his talent was nurtured by Wayne Clark and Tom Moody, before he transferred to New South Wales in the hope of becoming a better all-rounder on Sydney's spinning wickets.

Katich will be 30 between the third and fourth Tests, but he has still to establish a secure position in the Australian team, and it tries his patience. He made his debut at Headingley in 2001 (scoring 15 not out and 0), and was dropped. He can tell you exactly how many times he's been dropped since, and when. "Look," he says, "I won't hide that I was disappointed."

He can also explain why. It's that his left-arm chinaman does not appear to have improved in Sydney. "No 6 is thought of as a bit of an all-rounder spot, and I haven't bowled a lot. I guess I have to post a winner every time with the bat." Considering that, when he looks over his shoulder, he can see Mike Hussey, Brad Hodge and Martin Love, he is not exaggerating.

Lord's was crucial. He was disappointed to get out to Stephen Harmison for 27 in the first innings, but stayed long enough to register amazement at the pitch. He compares it to the famous fast track at the WACA in Perth: "Pace and carry in the morning." After that, a few kept low and some jagged back off the seam, which doesn't happen in Perth. It was emotionally exhausting. "On day two I was absolutely buggered from what happened on the first day."

On day three, his mindset had changed: "I'd got to back the tail and bat with them as long as possible." The ball was 70 overs old which gave them a chance to get in. "We thought that if we keep scoring runs, it would put pressure on England to try to force wickets." We know how England's fielders reacted to pressure - they dropped three catches that morning.

Katich is frank about his somewhat prosaic style - though there were eight fours in his 67. "If you can entertain the crowds and they enjoy watching you bat, that's a good thing, but first and foremost, you try to do what you can for the team."

The method was, in part, established at Durham: "You had to be patient. Runs never came easily." But he learned to play against Allan Donald, Kumble, Saqlain, and Warne. "It was a brilliant learning curve."

He was frankly surprised when Hampshire gave him the chance to climb a little higher on the curve by asking him to play again this summer. It was a free acclimatisation package.

Sunday evening was the reward. The Australian team lingered in the visitors' dressing room at Lord's until midnight. "We enjoyed a few concoctions," he says. Stuart MacGill apparently proved a capable barman; Warne scoffed a whole pizza margarita from the kitchen in the players' dining room, a clear breach of dietary regulations. "I admit I did too," Katich adds.

What next, at Edgbaston or Old Trafford? "From the point of view of our batters, I think the wickets will be different from Lord's," he says. Batting will be easier; the chance of him feeling buggered again is reduced. And he assumes those two wickets are likely to turn. That would pit Shane Warne against Ashley Giles.

How promising does that sound? To Katich, very.