Tenacious Katich credits Simpson for revival
Simon Katich's 2005 Ashes campaign ended with a meek dismissal for one at the hands of Andrew Flintoff at The Oval; the fourth time England's talismanic allrounder had dislodged him in the series. Four years later, Katich commenced the Ashes with a century rounded out with an authoritative pull off Flintoff. Revenge has seldom tasted so sweet.
Katich's torrid tours of England have been well documented - he was dropped from the Australian Test team shortly after the 2001 and 2005 Ashes series - but this is a batsman remodelled and renewed. Following the disappointment of four years ago, Katich undertook a series of private coaching sessions with Bob Simpson, the former Australian captain and coach, in which issues concerning footwork and balance at the crease were addressed.
From those sessions has emerged a batsman of tremendous skill and tenacity, and a figure who, along with Ricky Ponting, has emerged as the most vital member of the Australian top-order. With Phillip Hughes still finding his feet on the international stage and Michael Hussey fighting to break free of a 12-month batting malaise, the Australians have looked to Katich to provide them with the kind of starts expected under the former Hayden-Langer regime, albeit at a time of great transition within the national team.
He has not disappointed. In the 14 months since his Test recall in Jamaica, Katich has scored 1493 runs at 57.42, including six centuries, in the unfamiliar role of opener. He has done so with an unorthodox technique - he generally takes guard behind the crease, and possesses a pronounced trigger movement that pushes him across his stumps - but one that has stood up against the world's premier attacks and across the various surfaces of the Caribbean, India, Australia, South Africa and, now, England.
Katich was at his attritional best on Thursday, surviving a torrid bumper barrage from Andrew Flintoff and Stuart Broad to calm the nerves frayed after a dispiriting opening session in the field. His leans through mid-on and punches through the covers were born of timing, not force, and his defence was as solid as a Welsh tight-head.
Katich's knock was not without its anxious moments - Flintoff dropped a low-return catch on 10, and Graeme Swann was aggrieved when Billy Doctrove turned down a confident lbw shout on 56 - but never was there a question of him giving his wicket away, a la Kevin Pietersen the previous day. There is perhaps no one on the planet who places a higher price on their wicket. The spirit of Justin Langer lives on.
The smile on Katich's face upon reaching triple figures off the bowling of Flintoff was one of satisfaction and redemption. Australia's selectors indicated their intention never to play him again when, shortly after the 2005 Ashes, they struck him from Cricket Australia's central contract list, but Katich's late-career revival has been one taken from the pages of a Rocky script.
"Coming into the series was huge for me - you can't hide from the past and there's nowhere to hide in Test cricket," Katich said. "There's always so much analysis of our performance. The whole innings was built on getting us a good platform.
"The last time around I wasn't playing very well and I struggled to hit the ball straight. So I had to work on my balance and got dropped. I owe a huge amount to Bob Simpson, who gave me the time of day when I got dropped four years ago and was wondering if I would get back. His help and support has been enormous. I'm always going to be grateful for that. His help, technically, turned me into a more confident player."
Katich will resume his innings on Friday on 104, and only the bravest would bet against him advancing that total further. He is a batsman at the height of his mental and technical powers, and one fuelled by memories of disappointment and embarrassment - a combination that could prove irresistible over the course of the summer.
"We've had a good day today but we have to back that up tomorrow," he said. "I've been through that before, with the tough days, so it makes you appreciate these good ones.
"Now we're in with a chance to build on the platform today and swing things around. We've got to start well again in the morning. The momentum can swing quickly. It was a good day, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo