As first-class centuries go, Simon Katich's 124 against a moderate attack on a batting paradise at Potchefstroom was not one of his tougher assignments. But Katich knows that when Thursday rolls around and he is facing the new ball against Dale Steyn at the Wanderers, his task will be as difficult as anything he has come up against since his return to the Test team nine months ago.
Steyn was a major handful during the series in Australia when he topped the wicket tally with 18 at 26.16, including a brilliant collection of 10 for 154 at the MCG. Katich said the threat of Steyn, in combination with Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini, was one of the biggest challenges Australia would need to overcome in their effort to win the series and hold on to their No. 1 ranking.
"In terms of pace he's probably one of the quickest going around apart from Brett [Lee] when he's fully fit," Katich said. "Throw in the other couple as well and they've got a well-balanced attack and that's probably what was the hardest thing for us in Australia, was that they just kept coming at you all day. There's no periods in the game where you feel you can really get on top of them for an extended period.
"Phil [Hughes] and I have both spoken about that and obviously he hasn't played them yet but come next week we'll just have to make sure that we're occupying the crease because I think the key to their success has been that they try and wear you down and they're very disciplined. Five good bowling options, you just know you've got to spend a lot of time out in the middle to get a big score."
Katich certainly had no problems with crease occupation during the tour match, when he cruised to a century on a placid surface and with the assistance of what he described as one of the quickest outfields he had played on. When he retired at the tea break he was keen to allow Andrew McDonald and Marcus North to both have a chance to show their skills ahead of the first Test, where they are competing for the No. 6 spot.
North won the battle with an unbeaten 52 while McDonald worked his way to 23 before he was trapped lbw playing back to the legspinner Imran Tahir. Katich said batting together while jostling for one Test berth was a difficult situation for both men but he said their efforts in Potchefstroom might not be considered as important as their bowling potential when the team for the Johannesburg Test was picked.
"They're both genuine batting options," he said. "Obviously they're different styles of bowler. Macca is suited to bowling medium pace on conditions that suit and Northy's a pretty good offspinner - he's probably more than just a part-time bowler. It's nice to get a performance on the board because the selectors will certainly take note of that but the conditions will probably still dictate who gets to play."