Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo
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Simon Katich has been an unassuming character for as far back as one can remember. Today, in New South Wales' opening game of the Champions League, there was no change in that outward character. This tournament was expected to be the hunting ground for the likes of David Warner, Phillip Hughes and Moises Henriques - his younger, fitter team-mates - but it was Katich who added to the purist theory that playing orthodox cricket remains more beneficial than all the innovative fireworks of the Twenty20 format.
One of the hallmarks of Katich's career has been the strong mindset mandatory in a successful Test opener. Today, when the much talked about Hughes departed ten balls after Katich opted bat on a dicey, re-laid pitch, the New South Wales captain walked out to the middle needing to steady proceedings. And that he did, with little fuss.
Katich faced the first three balls on the back foot before neatly sending three of the next four deliveries to the rope. He opened his account with a strong push past cover for the first four of the day; a tuck past midwicket and a cut in front of square got him quickly into his stride. Meanwhile, Warner was still trying to play hard at everything - an exercise as futile, and fatal, as trying to board the notorious Blueline buses in Delhi.
Just like JP Duminy's breathtaking display of classical batting the previous evening, Katich also stayed put till the last second before making his move. He understood pretty quickly that, to handle the slow and skiddy nature of the pitch, he needed to use the pace of the ball more than muscle power. Playing mostly with soft hands, Katich deftly pushed the ball into the wide gaps in front of square and the lush green outfield took care of the rest.
The Eagles seemed overawed by the occasion. None of their bowlers could create any sort of intensity or rhythm, thereby allowing Katich to accelerate. He slotted a harmless offbreak from Thandi Tshabalala over the straight boundary for his second six and raised his half century. Even if he failed to add more after that, Katich's 53 was the highest score of the match, and it made the difference between victory and defeat.
Unlike Warner, who announced himself with an assault against South Africa, or Brendon McCullum, whose Bangalore blitzkrieg declared the IPL open in 2008, Katich has never made a telling statement in front of a global audience in a Twenty20. What he has done, though, is understand his limits while playing to his strengths.
Little wonder then that respected minds still consider Katich captaincy material for Australia. The man himself feels happy that he is mentoring young men and today was a fresh example of his leadership qualities. With the bat Katich led by example, and in the field he was proactive. He showed fresh legs and an accurate arm to effect two direct hits but, more than anything, Katich stamped his ruthlessness by never allowing his men to take their eyes off the ball. A good example of that came when he rapped Henriques on the knuckles for casually collecting the ball in the field early during the Eagles' chase.
That has been the biggest change in Katich over the last two years. Today he is more expressive and he admits that. It's a sign of his confidence and maturity. This was a fresh example of that, as he utilised his experience to help his team dominate proceedings. "If you look at the last IPL in South Africa, the top performers were a lot of the experienced cricketers like Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar," Katich said in that self-deprecating manner. "Even though it's a young man's game you still have to make the right decision at the right time with the bat and the ball."
This format may afford many a level of flash, but experience matters.