Simon Katich, born on August 21, 1975, is an Australian cricketer and captain of the New South Wales Blues. Currently plying his trade in domestic cricket around the world, Katich was shunted from the Australian team in unfortunate circumstances. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the career of the reliable left-handed batsman.
Simon Katich isn’t a classy and elegant left-handed batsman in the league of a Brian Lara or Graeme Pollock; neither is he an attacking bulldozer in the club of Matthew Hayden or Sanath Jayasuriya. You could say he mixes the two forms in his batting, and just about manages to emerge with the right formula to score enough runs for his team. He likes to shuffle across the wicket and use his feet while playing shots, but still is not as blatant doing it as a Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Going through his international career so far, which includes 4,188 runs in 56 Tests at 45.03 and 10 centuries, and a One-Day International (ODI) record that is just 45 matches old, you cannot classify him even close to the aforementioned batsmen. But Katich still manages to do enough to be considered a vital component of the team’s machinery, at least domestically where he boasts of more than 20,000 First-Class runs in 264 matches, including 57 tons. Unfortunately for him, and more so for the Australian cricket team, his talent wasn’t tapped enough in the latter half of his career.
Katich made his debut for Western Australia during the 1996-97 season after graduating from the AIS Australian Cricket Academy as a scholarship holder. The following season, he scored 1,039 runs that helped Western Australia win the Sheffield Shield. Katich was then selected to tour Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe with the Australian team the following season but suffered from chicken pox and other illnesses that cut short his tour. However, he recovered to contribute further for his state and had a phenomenal First-Class season in 2000-01. He scored 1,282 runs for Western Australia, before making the cross-country switch to New South Wales (NSW), where he was appointed captain.
Katich made his Test debut in the 2001 Ashes in the first Test at Headingley, which Australia lost. Coming in to bat at No 6, he could score just 15 before being bowled by Darren Gough, who went on to take a five-for. In the second innings, Katich could not get any runs on the board before his team declared their innings on 176 for four, but lost the match by six wickets. He was, unluckily and unfortunately, dropped from the team thereafter, but did well for NSW in the domestic circuit.
Katich’s second shot at Test cricket came almost two years after his first match — against Zimbabwe at the SCG, where he surprised one and all not with the bat, but with the ball. He scored 52 in the first innings before coming on to wreck Zimbabwe’s innings with bowling figures of six for 65. However, he did not have to wait long before scoring his first Test century. In the Australian summer of 2003-04, when India came touring, Katich rescued his team in the fourth and final Test after Sachin Tendulkar’s double century and VVS Laxman’s 178 had taken the tourists to a mammoth 705. In reply, Australia could only manage 474, but even that was majorly due to Katich’s gritty 125 off 166 balls under pressure. The way he used his feet against the spinners, Anil Kumble and Murali Kartik, was exceptional and it truly brought out his best qualities as a batsman, someone who is willing to take the attack to the bowler. In the second innings, Katich held the Australian middle-order together and remained unbeaten on 77 to secure a draw in what was his captain Steve Waugh’s last Test.
During Australia’s return tour of India later that year, Katich narrowly missed out on his second Test century by a solitary run, falling leg-before to left-arm spinner Kartik for 99 in Nagpur, in a match that Australia won by 342 runs. However, Katich had a poor Ashes outing in 2005 where he averaged less than 28 in nine innings. Later that year, he flopped again against the West Indies and was dropped from the Test squad for the next two-and-a-half years.
In February 2006, Katich scored his only One-Day International (ODI) century in the final of the triangular series at home against Sri Lanka. However, the following year, he host his Cricket Australia contract. Making a comeback into the Test arena the following season, Katich recorded his highest Test score of 157 during a tour of the West Indies. His 332-ball sojourn at Barbados included 14 boundaries and set up an 87-run with for his team. It is here that we enter the next phase of Katich’s career.
In the summer of 2009, Katich, as he was later to reveal, had a dressing room bust-up with Michael Clarke after the Sydney Test against South Africa. The two players had to be separated after an altercation regarding something as trivial as singing the team song. While the repercussions of the incident weren’t felt right then, they were to hit him when Clarke went on to take over from Ricky Ponting as captain a few years down the line.
Katich had a good 2009 otherwise where he held the NSW Blues to the inaugural Champions League T20 title and also recorded three nineties — 92, 98 and 99 — in Tests for Australia, before finally breaking the jinx by hitting a ton against Pakistan at Hobart. He also had a half-decent Ashes series in England where he scored a century at Cardiff and got a half-century and a couple of forties to his name, even as Australia relinquished the urn by losing 1-2. In the return rubber the following year, Katich hit a fifty at Brisbane and scored 43 at Adelaide before injuring his Achilles tendon, which ruled him out for the remainder of the series.
The bigger blow was to land the following winter, when Cricket Australia did not grant him a new international contract despite him being one of the most consistent batsmen in the team for the last three seasons. The reason that was given to him was that the selectors wanted to have a steady opening pair (Katich used to open the innings with Shane Watson at the time) until the 2013 Ashes double header, and with Katich being 38 by then, they didn’t think he would last. In a press conference arranged by NSW, Katich termed the decision as “absolutely ridiculous.”
“I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated at the decision, but I also want to make it clear I know I’m not the only player to go through this in the last few years because of inconsistent selection policies,” he said.
Katich later went on to claim that Clarke was the reason behind his axing. “You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that it’s not just the selectors that had a part in sending me on my way,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph. “I mean to be brutally honest whatever happened in the dressing room here a few years ago didn’t help my cause. And obviously the captain and coach are selectors.”
Katich never played for Australia again, and it was probably the latter’s loss because he went on to have terrific seasons with NSW and also with Lancashire later. He is also regarded a shrewd captain and is highly regarded by his teammates. Brett Lee, who played under Katich at NSW, had the following to say about him in his autobiography My Life: “He would have made a great Test skipper. His leadership was brilliant. Plus, he remains a top person. If you can’t get on with ‘Katto’, you must be an ordinary bloke. Period.”
Due to Australia’s struggles during the 2013 Ashes, a lot of former Australia players, including Lee and Michael Hussey, advocated recalling Katich into the side, which would give Australia a mature, stable and reliable head at the top of the order. Despite the failure of the team in the first leg of the double header, the Australian selectors are still avoiding making the call, despite Katich having had good success playing in England for Lancashire. Along with Clarke, Watson and Chris Rogers, Katich could have provided that much needed stability and experience to the Australian batting line-up. Whether he will be recalled for the Australian leg is yet to be seen, but if he isn’t then it would be a miserable waste of a talent, even in his late thirties.