Simon Katich September 5, 2008

'Results first, entertainment second'

Australian cricket's working-class hero talks about being a dour batsman in a team full of dashers, and how he overcame his bad patch

Simon Katich is not the prettiest batsman around, what with his exaggerated shuffle and his slow, old-fashioned scoring. The good part is, the base of his game is old-fashioned too; it's about making sure he fits into the team and contributes to victories, as opposed to entertaining the crowds. After an ordinary Ashes in 2005, Katich was dropped from the Australian side, but he has responded with a blockbuster 2007-08 season with New South Wales, scoring 1506 runs at 94.12, the highest by a long distance and also a Pura Cup record. His comeback finally arrived, though as an opener, to fill in for an injured Matthew Hayden. Fill in he did, and then some. Katich scored 319 runs in the West Indies earlier this year, at an average of 63.80, behind only Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ricky Ponting in that series.

In India, captaining Australia A on the tour of India, Katich is a man at peace with himself. A man not bothered about his reputation as long as he is a member of a Test team that keeps winning. "Obviously you like to entertain the crowd as much as possible, but when you are playing Test cricket it's all about winning the battle day in and day out," he tells Cricinfo

The passion of Katich: after being given out dubiously at Trent Bridge in 2005 © Getty Images

In a way, you are the Larry Gomes of Australia. What is the mentality of a defensive batsman in a team full of attacking batsmen?
(Laughs). Basically it's about always playing within your limitations. I know that I am not going to strike the ball like Andrew Symonds or Ricky Ponting, so I stick to my own game. Hopefully it complements the rest of the guys in the team.

You scored a quick hundred in just over a session last Pura season [during an innings of 306 against Queensland]. We wondered if it was the same Simon Katich.
Yeah, 180 in just over a session. There are rare days when I do score reasonably quickly. (Laughs)

Does ego come into play? People call you boring. How do you tackle that, mentally?
I try not to worry about that too much. I know I have a role within my team. As long as my team-mates, captain and coach are happy, there are no dramas. Obviously you like to entertain the crowd as much as possible, but when you're playing Test cricket, it's all about winning the battle day in and day out.

It is said that when a batsman is hitting the ball, he is expressing himself. They never use that phrase about one who defends passionately. What's your take on that?
You can still be showing good intent by having a solid defence, dropping the ball for a single and getting to the other end and rotating strike. That puts pressure on the bowlers. We talk about the singles as the other way of showing good intent. It's just not about going there and whacking fours and sixes, particularly in Test cricket. You have to take pressure off yourself by rotating the strike.

Even when you are doing well, they might say, 'Ah, we don't want to watch him.' How do you shut that out?
It doesn't faze me. You know that at the end of the day not everyone is going to like the way you play. You can't please everyone. That's the way it is. All that concerns me is making sure I'm doing a good job for the team.

Was that always your attitude, even at a young age?
I always had that thought process. I haven't worried about what the public and the crowd think. Otherwise I would probably have changed the way I played. Look, as I said before, not all of us can go out there and play like Andrew Symonds. I play within my limitations, and I'm very happy with that. That's the beauty of a team sport. You have got to have different sort of guys.

You opened with Adam Gilchrist in the ODIs. How difficult was that?
Yeah, definitely. And also, I was not playing well during that period. I was dropped from the Test side but managed to hold on to a spot in the ODIs. I battled through that period knowing that my game was not completely in order. Thankfully, now I have worked those problems out.

Taking singles is another way of showing good intent. It's just not about going there and whacking fours and sixes, particularly in Test cricket. You have to take pressure off yourself by rotating the strike

How difficult it was for you? You were playing but you knew your batting had problems.
It was very frustrating. I was trying to sort the problem out while I was playing a heap of cricket. Things were wrong with my game but we were playing day in, day out. I found it very hard to rectify the problems. And only after I got out of that high-pressure environment could I sort myself out in county cricket and for NSW.

You've had your share of problems in your career: a severe bout of chicken pox, injury problems, a battle with form... but now you're back. What has changed in your approach?
I have changed a lot. I had a poor Ashes series in 2005, but prior to that I was playing pretty well in Test cricket. So it was disappointing that I had one bad series and I was out. But that's the way with the Australian set-up. I had to go out and work hard to fight back. When I did get dropped, I took it on the chin. I knew I had not performed well enough. No doubt lots of people thought I was gone, but deep inside I felt I could keep chipping away and the opportunity would come. I was fortunate to get a chance in West Indies.

Did anyone help you in the process?
Bob Simpson made contact with me after I got dropped, and he was one of the few people to say, 'Look, I can help you out.' I have not forgotten that gesture. At that point I was very down with the way I was going, but to know that someone like him was there and wanting to help me gave me great confidence. The fact that he was prepared to do the hard yards to try and get my career back will be something that I will always be grateful for.

Simpson wrote that your balance and footwork were suspect when you were struggling. Did you work on those areas?
Yeah. I was unable to hit the ball straight, and that in turn affected my confidence and had a snowball effect. When I was struggling in the Ashes, I was falling over a bit and I couldn't play straight back down the ground. Also, on the off side, not being balanced, I was hitting the ball too square. The ball was not going where I wanted it to. Plus England bowled very well.

Plus those Murray mints?
(Laughs) Yeah, that might have played a little part!

I spent lots of time in the nets in Sydney - getting my balance right, getting my foot movement and timing right. I got enormous help from Simpson and my NSW coach, Matthew Mott. And the whole team ambience at NSW was great. It's amazing what can happen when the environment is relaxed, enjoyable and fun.

Your stance has been criticised. You make those shuffling initial movements and then you straighten up.
It's just a natural thing. I have always had the movement before the ball gets bowled. I think it's similar to someone like Darren Lehmann. And Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The other left-handers do it as well. One of the things as a left-hander is that you can obviously get exposed outside off stump if you are not covering it. I always try to make sure I am strong around the off stump.

Workman at work: in the West Indies, during his successful comeback © AFP

How do you approach the nets sessions? Matthew Hayden said in an interview that he prepared according to the bowlers in the opposition.
I try to replicate what happens in the first ten minutes of the match. Now after opening it's about making sure I am tight and not playing extravagantly. Some openers like Hayden like to put pressure on the bowlers. I would be more inclined to take my time and build my foundations.

But there have been times in your career when you have suddenly gone for the hook and got out. It happened against India in Adelaide. Was there a bit of ego involved there?
No, I just felt good at that time. I was on 70-odd, I was seeing the ball well and it was an instinctive shot.

What's the worst shot you've played in international cricket?
Getting out on 99 at Nagpur, when I had played well and should have got a hundred. And here in Bangalore, when I got out for 81. I was lbw in Nagpur. I missed one from Murali Kartik and was plumb. In Bangalore I got out trying a pull shot off Anil Kumble. I gloved it onto my thigh pad, and it rolled to the stumps. I should have just tucked it for a single. I paid the price.

What gives you confidence? Is there any shot in particular after playing which you say you are up and ready?
If I am able to hit straight and the ball is going where I want it to go, I feel confident. That to me has been the sign in the last 12 months: I have started to drive a lot straighter, and my confidence level has increased.

The players you admire?
I have never played against Allan Border, but I admired his fighting quality. Playing with Steve Waugh was a big learning curve, seeing how he went about it when the team was under pressure.

Did you sit down and talk with Waugh? What exactly made him so special?
I think because he got out there and set a good example when the team needed him. We had huge respect for him. He would perform when the pressure was on. Be it in the 1999 World Cup or in Tests when he got that double hundred in West Indies. Stuff like that. It was about respect.

What drives you?
I am very competitive and I love to win. I have been fortunate to play in winning teams throughout my career, and that's something I love. Sometimes I have been more inclined to worry about the win rather than whether I entertain the crowd or not. It's about celebrating the win with my team-mates, be it club, Australia, NSW, county or Mohali [IPL]. That's what I love about the game.

I have been fortunate to play in winning teams throughout my career, and that's something I love. It's about celebrating the win with my team-mates, be it club, Australia, NSW, county or Mohali. That's the thing I love about the game

Early in your career you moved from Western Australia to New South Wales, which the WA fans didn't like. Some of them called you a traitor and said you moved to NSW just to get into the national side - since there is supposedly a bias towards NSW in the national selection.
(Laughs) That move had nothing to do with playing for Australia. It was about trying to become a better player. I felt that at that time in WA I was stalling. I had to get better against spinners and also work on my spin bowling. That's why my move to Sydney was an ideal opportunity. In my mind it never mattered whether I played for WA or NSW, because I got picked to Australia from WA. I have always believed if you are good enough you will be picked.

No doubt, history shows that lots of NSW players have been picked, and that has something to do with the fact that NSW had a couple of Australian captains in Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. But you look at the squad now; the guys are coming in from everywhere. There are four different selectors and it's not as biased as it seems. There were many NSW players on the West Indies tour, but that's also a by-product of us winning the Pura Cup last year. The guys who had performed had warranted selection.

Peter Roebuck wrote an article earlier this year saying you should be the next Australian captain.
I was embarrassed to read that. I respect what he wrote, but I don't think in my situation that's going to be the case. I am just happy to be back in the mix as a player and doing my role whenever I get the opportunity.

You might get the chance only when someone is injured or something like that. How do you adjust and prepare mentally for that?
I understand that's the situation I am in. I have tried to relax myself thinking that whatever will be will be. That showed in the West Indies. I had a bad start but I kept myself relaxed and playing as well as I have done for NSW.

What is your emotional support system?
My wife and both our families. At the end of the day it's a game and I love it, but there are other important things in life. Don't get me wrong, Test cricket is a very huge thing and I have really worked hard to come back. I certainly want to make the most of this opportunity.

Does your wife give you advice about how to play?
Yeah. She has come to understand the game, and it's funny. She keeps telling me, 'Don't hook, don't hook'!

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo