Katich's counsel for captain Smith
Last time Simon Katich's opinions on Australian cricket were widely broadcast it was quite the momentous event. His press conference in response to being culled from the list of Cricket Australia contracts in 2011 was a fierce repudiation of much in the game at the time, and foreshadowed the upheaval to follow from the Argus review.
Four years on and Katich is set to be a voice of influence once again, this time as part of the remodelled ABC Grandstand radio team to cover this summer's international cricket. Save for his Big Bash League duties, Katich has been away from game, carving out a career in football operations for the Greater Western Sydney AFL club while raising a young family with his wife Georgie.
His return to the Test match realm also coincides with a new job as assistant coach for the Kolkata Knight Riders, and it is clear Katich is putting his toes back in the water of the game that had been his life for more than a decade up to 2011. He is chuffed to see Steven Smith turning out as Australia's captain, having batted alongside him on the younger man's state debut in January 2008. Katich was then in the midst of a prolific season that vaulted him back into the Test team; Smith a precocious teenager also dabbling in leg spin and emerging at the same time as a host of others.
"In that crop of 2007-08 he debuted, Usman [Khawaja] debuted, [Phillip] Hughesy debuted and had an outstanding start," Katich recalled. "Starcy was just coming on the scene as well, Hazlewood was around the fringes of the squad and not long after that Warner was emerging as well. A lot of them started at that point. Steve batted at No. 7 on debut and got 30-odd and looked really good, then bowled well too.
"We knew he was a top-order batsman because he batted there for Sutherland, but with the balance of our squad he had to come in the middle order. He's the sort of guy who has been prepared to listen and learn and take things in, he's a very good student of the game, so it's no surprise to see him playing the way he has and making the most of really nailing it second time around once he got back in the team.
"He'll be a student of the game for himself and everyone around him. That's what'll make him a very successful captain because he does put that time and effort into analysing stuff without over-thinking it, because he's got a great temperament, he's very relaxed and calm and laid-back away from the game, but at the same time when he needs to be he'll be intense and focused. Everyone's excited to see him lead Australia through this next era of cricket."
One area Katich can advise Smith more adeptly than most is in the subtleties of a pre-movement across the crease. When reminded of his own pace from leg to off before the bowler delivered, Katich was eager to note that he was not alone, before outlining how and why such a move can prove successful. It certainly was for Katich - his Test record still stands out among Australian batsmen of the post-Warne/McGrath years.
"Chanderpaul probably did and so did Boof but I'll take that!" he laughed. "I was doing it from a young age in Perth because back then the WACA was quick and bouncy, so if you didn't get in line with the ball as much as possible you were nicking to the slips cordon. That was part of trying to develop in state cricket, and then it became part of my game.
"Part of my strength as a player was off my pads particularly early on in my career. I felt if you're going out there with a mindset that you're going to miss it then you're probably not in the best mental state to try to make runs. So I was backing myself that I wasn't going to miss them even though it's dangerous, you get caught in front of your stumps a lot, but at the same time if it gets you to 20 or 30 safely and then you're away, as a batsman that helps you to get big scores.
"The key to it, when I was doing it well my movement was early and my head was still so at the point of delivery I was in good position to make the secondary movement. When I wasn't playing so well through confidence or particularly lack of timing, my foot movement was a little bit late and then I found myself being in a position where I couldn't make a secondary movement and I was just having to play with my hands, which was always fraught with danger as a batsman."
A legacy of Katich's time in football is that he feels cricket coaching still has some distance to travel in terms of the amount of nuance and detail that can be delved into to help players find their best. However he acknowledged that in cricket a player's capacity to be self-reliant had to be prominent in a game played so much between the ears.
"It's very difficult to compare the physical preparation and what the AFL boys go through week to week ... the one big thing I noticed is the amount of time and energy that's put in by the coaches to develop the players is outstanding. The attention to detail is outstanding and that's something that definitely could be taken across to cricket.
"I'm not saying that cricket doesn't do it, it's done in a different fashion, a lot more informally over a chat or a beer or whatever it is, it's done in the nets, whereas with footy there were structured sessions, education sessions and a lot of video analysis. I'm sure cricket does that but probably not to the same level of detail I've seen at the Giants. That was very impressive to me, but like any sport you've got to find a balance when it comes to young athletes.
"I know when I was younger there were times when you've got to figure things out for yourself as well so you can't just have someone spoon-feeding you all the time with what you need to do. You've got to become self-sufficient, and I think cricket does that pretty well, finding that balance between coaches stepping in and players learning for themselves, because ultimately no-one else can play for you."
Heading into this summer, Katich is confident in his expectation of strong Australian performances at home. He reasons that the conditions are favourable enough for Smith's team that they will be able to overcome their inexperience and the unsettling effect of so many retirements. However he is adamant that the team must find new ways to perform overseas, where home comforts of bounce and pace are seldom present.
"There's a couple opportunities in the batting line-up, some guys are playing for their spots, and we've got an exciting pace attack, which will be a big advantage," he said. "I expect us to do well in Australia, our big test is going to be how we start to go overseas. That's what the boys will look forward to the most, that challenge. I've witnessed that first-hand, winning in India in 2004 when we hadn't done it for more than thirty years. Conversely in England where we got outplayed in 2005 and 2009 we didn't play the style of cricket you have to in those conditions.
"In India, playing three quicks and Warney rather than two spinners when they play spin so well, that worked for us, but in England you've got to drop sweepers out at times and play that game where you're attacking the stumps sometimes. We have a big advantage in Australia where we know the conditions, our batsmen like batting here and our bowlers like bowling here, but overseas you've got to be flexible and adapt."
As for the righteous anger of 2011, Katich has not been close enough to events to know for sure whether all of his grievances have been adequately addressed. But he admitted the identities of the men choosing the Australian Test team these days - notably the coach Darren Lehmann - left Katich reasonably confident that the lines of communication are what they should be.
"Knowing Boof well I'd be surprised if that's not all well sorted out," Katich said. "Also with selection it always comes down to communication and whether people are kept in the loop or not. That's one of the biggest challenges of that role. Knowing the guys who are there - Rod, Mark Waugh, Boof and Trevor Hohns - I'm sure that would be the case because they're all highly experienced and it is a huge part of the role, to let blokes know where they stand."
If they don't, it will now be Katich's job to call it as he sees it. History says he's more than capable of doing so.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig