'I'll treat every Test from now as a bonus'
After several years on the fringe of Australia's Test team, Simon Katich has suddenly been thrust into centre stage by the untimely injury to Ricky Ponting. As the first Test against India gets underway this morning, Katich looks set to take over in the pivotal No. 3 position. In the build-up to the game, he spoke to Andrew Miller
Your last Test against India was pretty handy (125 and 77 not out at Sydney). That must fill you with confidence
Yeah, I was fortunate last summer, because the wickets were good to bat on, and it turned out to be a high-scoring series, at Sydney in particular. I'd faced the likes of Anil Kumble before which helped, although the conditions out here are totally different. I'll just try to adjust and deal with him, because there's no doubt he's going to bowl a lot of overs.
You've been waiting in the wings since 2001, but you haven't yet cemented your spot - does that prey on your mind?
Yeah, it's a fair call. I was lucky to get back into the side last summer, but now that I've got my chance, I intend treating every Test from hereon as a bonus. If I do as well as can, then hopefully I'll get another one. But I've been looking forward to this series for a long time - it's nice to have been selected. If I can get a run [in the side], we'll see what happens.
Time on the sidelines does seem to be a pattern for Australia's top players
True - the Haydens, Martyns and Langers have all done their time, either in county cricket or playing first-class in Australia. I've made my debut, and then had a spell out of favour, but I've used their experiences to take heart. Now it's my time, maybe?
Are you hungrier since your return?
Definitely - when I got my opportunity last year, I felt a better player than I was first time around. In my two years on the outside, I've been busy with first-class cricket, and my summer at Hampshire in 2003 definitely set me up for the Australian season. My move to Sydney helped as well. Perth's pitches are much quicker than the SCG's slow turners, so my game's had to develop to cope.
Cricket is a tough game, and it's a matter of hanging in there. I don't think you can survive if you don't take the good with the bad.
Of course, you have another string to your bow - your chinamen.
Yeah! It's something I enjoy doing, but I'm quite obviously a part-timer. I'll keep working on them and keep improving, but it's definitely a second string!
The Sri Lanka tour has been described as a sighter for this India trip - but you missed out there a bit ...
Yeah, I was dropped for the first two Tests and only played the one game, although it didn't go too badly, as I got 14 and 86! But it's bound to help, seeing as I got to face Murali on spinning wickets. I'm guessing the conditions out here will be similar, but we'll have to find out. Someone like Harbhajan will be a big threat, because he bowled really well last time and dominated the series. I've never faced him, only watched him on telly, but I'll just have to have a gameplan, stick to it, and overcome the conditions.
Is it true that Hayden wrote you a letter when you were dropped for those matches?
Yes, that's right. At the time, I just didn't see it coming. My form was good. I'd made runs at Sydney, and a hundred in the tour match, so I was really disappointed. But Haydos told me I had a good character, and simply said: "Hang in there, your time will come". That gave me heart, and it goes to show you never know what's around the corner. And, as it turned out, I was back in the side two Tests later, and performed when it mattered. That's the biggest thing. We all have disappointments in our career, we all go through periods of doubt. But cricket is a tough game, and it's a matter of hanging in there. I don't think you can survive if you don't take the good with the bad.
What sort of preparation have you put in for this tour?
In terms of the conditions, Sri Lanka is the only similar place to India, and I've been there twice now, so that will stand me in good stead. But my only real preparation has been playing in England, because there's really nowhere else playing cricket at this time of year. Last month I replaced Michael Clarke at Hampshire, so it was good to get some match practice in. But overall it's been a bit of a disjointed winter. The Zimbabwe trip was cancelled, then there were a couple of Tests up north [in Darwin and Cairns].
Steve Waugh once described you as a big-match player - does it get any bigger than this?
No, I don't think so, except maybe an Ashes tour. This is going to be a great challenge for the side, not just individually but as a team, because we haven't won here for 34 years. It's a massive series, but I know what the squad's like - we like these challenges. Pretty much everything else has been conquered in the last three years, this is the only thing lacking. There was stuff written about us when we went to Sri Lanka - people thought we might struggle - but we overcame some obstacles and won 3-0. We did really well then, so hopefully it'll be the same here.
Those 34 years - do they play on the mind?
Yeah, I guess it does a bit for the guys who have been here before, but for us guys that haven't, it's not quite such a big deal. I guess it's like the England side that played Australia in the Champions Trophy. They beat them because a lot of the guys haven't been scarred by the past. It's not an advantage as such, but it's certainly not a case of being naïve either. It just hasn't entered the equation. It's a case of: "This is what we could achieve, how great would it be if we could do it?"
Are you confident about the future when some of the older players start to retire?
Yeah, we know we're getting on a bit as a side, but the way things are these days, we're a lot fitter. And then there's Warnie, who had a year off and then came back brilliantly for us in Sri Lanka. It'll be interesting to see how much longer he's got, but there's still some good depth in Australian cricket. Whether there's another Warne out there, we won't know until someone gets an opportunity. And the same goes for Glenn [McGrath]. They are obviously great bowlers, and will be hard to replace. But until guys like Cameron White get their chance, there's no judging.
When Ricky Ponting was injured, he more or less anointed Michael Clarke as his successor. Does that bother you?
I haven't thought about it. I try to worry about myself, make sure I'm in good form, and then when the opportunity arises, grab it, like I did last summer. But it's a matter of enjoying the game all the time, because if you don't, then someone else comes in!
Your early career was interrupted by a mystery illness
That's what people call it, but it was pretty simple really - glandular fever. I had that in April 1999, and then in August, I went to Sri Lanka on my first tour, and picked up chicken pox. So both of those are pretty well known. But what happened next was that I got post-viral fatigue. I kept trying to train and do as much as I could, but it was too much, and my body starting telling me "slow down". So I took a month off, and was fine after that. I was playing again by January, and gradually worked my way back up to full strength. It had just left me feeling weak and tired.
So no worries about Indian food or conditions?
No, I don't think so. After all, I got through Sri Lanka with no problems. I look after myself and I'm reasonably fit, and I don't mind the heat. I'd sooner have that than a cold day in Durham at any rate! The humidity will be a big factor though, so I hope to adjust to that, and get plenty of rest between games.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo