Katich: 'Selectors deserve a lot of credit for bringing in Renshaw, Handscomb'

Simon Katich, who's commentating the India-Australia Tests for ABC Radio, speaks about Australia's newfound batting talents -- Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb.

"Hopefully now there's a cycle where there are a number of young batsmen who're going to come through and end up being really good Test players. Hopefully (Matthew) Renshaw and (Peter) Handscomb are the start of that," says Simon Katich.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

In his second chance at Test cricket as an opener, Simon Katich acquitted himself fairly well, displaying the sort of patience and grit that an Australia side in transition desperately needed at the top of the order. Seven years after his retirement, now watching from the outside as a commentator, Katich is greatly pleased that he sees some of those qualities in Matthew Renshaw. The 20-year-old has been Australia's most impressive batsman on tour in India, playing the 'long game', as he calls it, to good effect.

"He's a very good prospect," says Katich, between shifts in the commentary box for ABC Radio at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Monday.

"He looked good right from the word go, when he made his debut in Adelaide (against South Africa in November). Even in the first innings, he only got 10 but he looked like he had a really good
temperament for Test cricket. In the second innings he was outstanding. He was getting a bit of stick from the crowd wanting the game to be finished early. He was just happy to keep batting and get his job done."

"Based on what we've seen so far from a 20-year-old in his first Test series in India, in testing batting conditions, against a high quality attack, I think he's got a very long future in front of him. I really like him."

The decision to throw youngsters like Renshaw and Peter Handscomb into the deep end was fraught with risk, but Katich appreciates the reshuffle Cricket Australia's selectors carried out, after a rotten
run of performances against Sri Lanka and South Africa.

"It was a bold decision. But I think they (the selectors) felt that they couldn't lose because after losing five Tests on the trot they had to try something different. Australia has a history of going for younger players at times. The good thing about Renshaw and Handscomb getting picked is that they were both in form. Even though they were young, they were picked on form. They had scored good runs in Shield cricket. It looked like it was bold at the time but five Tests on the selectors deserve a lot of credit."

After the retirement of the likes of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, and Damien Martyn, there was a general worry over the quality of batsmen Australia was producing. Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey were the only truly world-class batsmen, and the likes of Katich and Chris Rogers offered solidity at the top, but there was no young batting talent arriving regularly off the assembly line.

Repeated Ashes defeats and some embarrassing collapses the world over only served to enhance the impression that the country's batting stocks were depleted and that there was perhaps something deeply wrong with the system. Players, it seemed, simply did not know how to bat on pitches that supported seam or spin.

Katich admits he was concerned. "You always worry when there's not enough runs being made in Shield cricket. But it always goes through cycles. And hopefully now there's a cycle where there are a number of
young batsmen who're going to come through and end up being really good Test players. Hopefully Renshaw and Handscomb are the start of that," he says.

"You never know until someone gets an opportunity at Test level. I don't think you can write anyone off until they've actually had a chance. Handscomb is a good player of spin; he hasn't got a big score in India yet but he's prepared to use his feet."

"You need to have a strong belief to say I'm going to bat for 150-160 balls to earn my runs. Hopefully Warner, Smith and Usman Khawaja can also progress. All of a sudden now, you've got the nucleus of a very good top six and hopefully there are a few more youngsters that'll keep putting their
hand up."

On this India tour, Katich is impressed with not just Renshaw but Australia's batting in general. "They've started well because they've learnt their lessons in Sri Lanka. Their batting was poor. The batting over there was what let us down. We lost 20 wickets in the second Test in Galle in less than 80 overs; that's not Test match batting. That's the big improvement over what I've seen so far. They're prepared to bat time. They've trusted their defence. They haven't gone all-out attack. That's the big difference for me. They're not trying to sweep everything, or reverse sweep and put the fielders back. They're trying to bat time and that's the reason they've started well."

Renshaw has been serene not just in his batting but in dealing with verbal volleys on the field. His approach, he later stated, was to merely smile in return to any barbs, something that unnerved his antagonists further. It is impossible to imagine Australian teams of old responding in similar fashion.

"Look, that's Renshaw's game, but someone like David Warner might bite back," says Katich. "It all depends on the individual but this is a younger group and they're still finding their feet and they're going to be less inclined to get stuck into the opposition. Which might actually work in their favour because they're just going to focus on playing their game. Whereas teams in the past had a lot more experience and a lot more confidence because of what they'd achieved, and as a result played that way. But it was more to do with the characters there than anything else."

When Australia last won a Test series (or a single Test even) in India, 13 years ago now, Katich was part of the squad. It remains his abiding memory of the country. "It's hard to go past 2004. That was my first Test tour here. To win the series, at the time, I didn't realize how monumental it was for Australian cricket. Now looking back it's been a long time since we've had any success. If the guys can do it now it will be phenomenal."

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