Odd couple flourish together
Neither Simon Katich nor Shane Watson are facing the new ball by design. They are accidental openers who have simply made the most of their opportunities and, for a couple of middle-order batsmen, they make a fine opening pair. Their 132-run partnership at the WACA was a display of style and substance, and for the second time in two Tests, set Australia up wonderfully.
Three years ago, they were Australia's one-day international openers. Their last innings together came in that famous cricket hub, Kuala Lumpur, when Katich laboured for 101 minutes for his 25. They were a strange combination, the flashy allrounder trying to prove himself as a top-order man, and the dogged compiler whose international days seemed to be fast running out.
When Katich was duly dropped from the ODI side after that game it seemed incomprehensible that in 2009-10 they would be Australia's Test openers. Yet here they were in a Test decider in Perth, causing all sorts of problems for West Indies, their opponents in that Malaysia match of 2006, and showing no signs that they should be separated again any time soon.
Katich's 99 and Watson's 89 were innings of contrast, complementary efforts that built on the success they have enjoyed together over the past six months. As they had in Adelaide during their 174-run partnership, the two men showed no discomfort facing the new ball at Test level, even though neither of them opens in the Sheffield Shield.
Like Katich in the Caribbean last year, Watson stumbled into the opening role on the Ashes tour this season. It could have been a temporary solution, but sometimes things just work out. They've opened together nine times and are averaging 71 for the first wicket, and their individual figures are similarly impressive. As a Test opener, Watson has scored five half-centuries and averages 52.55; since being joined at the top by Watson, Katich has four fifties and an average of 50.87.
It's good news for Australia's much-criticised selectors, bad for Phil Jaques, Chris Rogers and Phillip Hughes. The specialist openers toiling in Australia's state cricket must be wondering if they should switch to the middle order, if moving the other direction is so easy.
They remain an odd pair. Watson doesn't know how long this opening gig will last, so he's going to enjoy it while he can. He has transferred his one-day style to Tests and, whether or not it works in the long run, it's fun to watch. At the WACA he pounced on short balls and pulled with self-belief, and took the shine off the new-ball by crunching drives into the advertising boards.
There was to be no century for Watson, who was caught behind for 89 to add to his agonising 96 in the previous match. Watson emotions are always on display and he was despondent leaving the field so close to triple figures for the second time in just over a week, although this time he at least felt he'd been done by a good ball. The fans were sad to see him go but thrilled to have watched him.
By the time Watson departed he had more than doubled the score of Katich, who was content to hand over the strike and had crawled to 40. He lifted his rate and cut and drove his way to 99, continuing his role as the quiet achiever in Australia's line-up. He has been so impressive this year that none of his team-mates, not even Michael Clarke in career-best form, have scored more than Katich's 1001 Test runs in 2009. Watson certainly enjoys having him at the other end.
"We've definitely put on some good partnerships in the last two Tests," Watson said. "It's very nice batting with Simon. One, he's a really nice guy, but also he's very calm, very level-headed when he's batting. He's got a very simple game and he sort of rubs off onto me with that."
Like Watson, there was no century celebration for Katich, who for the second time in Tests departed on short of triple figures. His sweep off Sulieman Benn found the man at square leg and was later described by the West Indies coach David Williams as "a terrible shot", but Katich didn't need anyone to tell him that he'd made the wrong choice of stroke.
"He's very disappointed," Watson said. "The times that it gets you more is when you do have a mental error and make a wrong shot, especially when you're close to that real big milestone. I know how he's feeling, when you do play a mental error more than good bowling. He's very frustrated at the moment."
That feeling will ease. As Watson and Katich both know, it's far more frustrating not to be playing Test cricket.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo