|"I'd love to come over to Vis some time!"
Ask any of the Vis under 13s who their cricketing hero is and most - never having seen Test cricket - will name a Vis First XI player. As any of the older cricketers, though, and the reply is unanimous; New South Wales and former Australia Test batsman Simon Katich.
"That's pretty funny - I'm flattered," chuckles the Derbyshire captain, fresh from scoring a solid 80 against Middlesex at Southgate, and clearly used to rather less idolatry. "I guess if you take the "h" off my name it's pretty clear where my roots lie..."
"My grandfather on Dad's side was born in Kozica, down in central Dalmatia," he xplains as I elaborate further on the Hrvatski Kriket set-up. "He emigrated to Australia in the 1920s, eventually settling in Perth. That's where I played club cricket with Chris Pivac."
Pivac, it should be noted, was the star of the Croatian national side when they won the European Third Division Championship in 2005, scoring two centuries.
"I reckon I've definitely got a bit of that firey Croatian blood in me!" Simon grins.
23 Test Caps for Australia would definitely attest to that. So would the occasion for which Katich is best remembered - in England at any rate - his angry reaction
|An interview with Simon Katich|
|to the unluckiest umpiring decision of the 2005 Ashes series. It was at Trent Bridge where Aleem Dar adjudged the then Australian no:6 leg-before to a ball from Steve Harmison that pitched outside leg and hit him well above the knee-roll. His disgust resulted in a hefty fine overshadowed by that handed out to Ricky Ponting after the Australian captain's run in - or perhaps - run out - with Gary Pratt.
"Ah, I regret my reaction, of course," Simon shrugs, with a hint of a grimace. "You know, I woke up that morning feeling great, I was in good nick and I was convinced that it was my day. I said to my wife, "I'm gonna go out there and win us a Test match today". I was just so frustrated at getting out at that point [and in that manner, no doubt], leaving us 50 or 60 runs short of where we might have got had I stayed in. In the end, those 50 or 60 runswere what allowed England to squeak home..."
That was more or less his last significant contribution in the green cap - he lost his place that November against the Windies in Brisbane after registering a duck, a sad way to leave the stage for one of first class cricket's nice guys. Simon has already underlined his support for Croatian cricket by signing a few Kookaburra bats provided by Chris Pivac's father, Tom, for the national side to use, and seems genuinely impressed at the progress of the domestic league. He later donates some more equipment for me to take over to Vis Island, where Croatia's oldest cricket club are currently preparing their new ground.
"I'd love to come over to Vis some time - we'll have to see if we can arrange something," he says, adding that he still has family living near Dubrovnik. "Croatia's a beautiful country, and it's fantastic that the game's taking off over there."
So how does he feel about an invitation to attend try-outs for the Croatian national side?
"Oh, that'd be great!" he laughs, "but, you know, I'm still hopeful of a test recall. There's a big volume of test cricket being played these days, and there are always injuries, openings. I've had a really good winter with New South Wales and I'm doing ok with Derbyshire, so as long as I keep in the runs I'm in with a shout."
With nearly 1000 so far this season (quite a bit better than "ok" and not far behind the man who took his place, Mike Hussey), Hrvatski Kriket might just have to wait a little longer.
Ben Heywood, July 2007
An edited version of this interview appeared in Spin Magazine