Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Katich the man to Gabba victory

The new Australian selection panel must consider reinstating Simon Katich as a top order batsman and possibly captain ahead of the test series against New Zealand.

They are unlikely to do so but it would be a humble move that might save Australian Cricket from further folly.

The panel of former test players John Inverarity (convenor), Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel along with current captain Michael Clarke began their tenure last week in the aftermath of the team's capitulation for 47 to South Africa in Cape Town.

It was an outrageous premise that any Australian side could get into that position, especially tumbling to 21 for nine, a figure that threatened New Zealand's 1955 test record low of 26.

Australia's unlikely to be in that position again but their weakest team in a generation faces New Zealand at the Gabba starting December 1. Australia have not lost there in 23 years but it is the venue of arguably New Zealand's most convincing cricket triumph, an innings and 41-run win in November 1985.

The focus turns to how much the Australian selection panel can exert its independence and fortify both the batting order and team culture by including 36-year-old Katich.

The hindrance is the altercation between Clarke and Katich in January 2009 after Australia lost their first series at home to South Africa but won the final test in Sydney.

Katich grabbed Clarke by the throat during an argument about when the team song, Under The Southern Cross I Stand, should be sung. Australian players are traditionally not allowed to leave the dressing room until it has been completed. Clarke had wanted it sung early in celebrations so he could leave to be with family and then girlfriend Lara Bingle. Michael Hussey, the song's custodian, decided it should be sung close to midnight.

The Katich-Clarke feud bubbled over again in June. Katich accused Clarke of engineering his axing as one of Australia's 25 contracted players. Katich received a detrimental public comment charge from Cricket Australia for speaking his mind, a move that divided the Australian cricket community, with the likes of former test players Mike Whitney and Greg Matthews speaking out in his defence.

Yet Clarke claims he can put personal issues aside for the greater good of Australian Cricket. Ahead of the second test in Johannesburg last week he said: "I've made it very clear to the guys that part of my job as captain is to be a selector and it's all about the team. I make no bones about that. We're going to pick the best 11 players, whatever we feel that is. It's not personal."

The series against New Zealand is the barometer for such lip service. Katich has respect from the players for his grit and uncompromising approach; his recent form for New South Wales could also justify his inclusion; he has a century in one of his last four first-class innings this summer.

It is worth comparing Katich's record against New Zealand to those of the incumbents. In seven tests he averages 80.37, including three of his 10 test centuries.

He might crab his back foot across the crease in an unorthodox fashion and be in motion at the point of delivery but his resilience cannot be questioned.

Of the current top six, Hughes has an average of 106 in one test appearance against New Zealand, the next best is Clarke (60.18 in nine tests), Ponting (57.47 in 15), Hussey (33 in four) and Watson (20.57 in two).

- Herald on Sunday

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