New Zealand v Australia, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 3rd day March 29, 2010

Simple Simon knows his limits

Simon Katich hasn't so much been flying under the radar as crawling under it. His almost six-hour century sent the odd punter to sleep on the Seddon Park hill on a dozy Monday away from the office but it was the perfect innings for the circumstances. Australia wanted an unassailable lead and Katich set them on the path towards it with a hundred that was as painstaking as Ross Taylor's was breathtaking.

If he turns out to be the match-winner, it will be well-deserved. Nothing tells the story of Katich's reliability like his triumph on Allan Border Medal night last month. The Australian players select their best contributors after every Test and Katich's team-mates didn't grant him the maximum three votes in any of the 14 matches during the award period. Still, he was named Test Player of the Year, a triumph of attrition over attraction.

There's every chance he will get the three votes after this game. His 88 in the first innings saved Australia's blushes while his top-order friends threw their wickets away, and his 106 in the second has given them a strong chance of victory. As usual he was overshadowed, first when Shane Watson made 65 of the 85-run opening stand and then when Michael Hussey proved more fluent in the early stages of their partnership. Katich didn't find the boundary until his 138th delivery, when he drove cleanly through extra cover and made viewers wonder why he hadn't tried it earlier.

In backyards across Australia few children imagine themselves as Katich, shuffling across their plastic stumps and squirting singles to square leg. The handful who do will at least never lose their tennis ball over the neighbour's fence. It's a method that has worked for Katich since his return to the side in 2008 and the proof is in a list of all-time averages for Test openers. Of every player who has opened in at least 20 innings, Katich's average of 55.08 puts him sixth on the tally, behind legends like Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton. Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, the bar against which modern Australian openers are measured, sit 13th and 17th.

Fittingly, the only Australian above Katich is Bob Simpson, the man who Katich credits as having helped him overcome a technical flaw four years ago when he was striving to regain his place in the Test team. Since Katich won a position as an opener on the tour of the West Indies two years ago, he has been Australia's leading run scorer, well clear of Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting. It was a lack of consistency that cost him his place after a disappointing Ashes tour in 2005 and a more mature, more relaxed Katich has been on display following his return.

"I stick to my limitations," Katich said after his 347-minute innings. "I know the limitations of my game and given that the game was in the balance I didn't want to take any undue risks, and make sure that I set a platform for the rest of the team. When you do bat at the top of the order it's easy to think someone else will get the runs, but you've just got to make sure you get out there and lay the foundations just in case that doesn't happen."

That solid base was built before lunch in a session that featured the equivalent of almost 33 overs of dot balls. In the first over after the break, Katich struck two consecutive boundaries having managed three in his previous 176 deliveries, and even Aleem Dar and Asad Rauf were wondering what the batsman had eaten at lunch.

"The umpires were sort of joking that I might have got a bit ahead of myself," Katich said. "They said, 'What's happened?' That was when I got to about 60. Even they noticed it. They said, 'Is that the same bloke down there?' I did have a bit more fun after 50, that's for sure. The first 50 wasn't great but after that, from 50 onwards I felt like I played quite well."

He did, and there were even a couple of aerial drives down the ground that jolted the spectators out of their slumber. Perhaps Katich's team-mates will wake up as well, and Australia's Test Player of the Year will finally be their Man of the Match.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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