DateLine: 12th December 2005
Despite being an ever present in the Australian steam roller which won 16 consecutive Test matches on either side of the new millennium, Michael Slater was also the first batsman to be jettisoned from that side after mediocre series in India and England. Although that was back in 2001, his axing has been a festering wound with Slater, as is evidenced by his recent attack on Steve Waugh (his captain at the time) in his biography, even though the returns of Justin Langer (his replacement), has subsequently more than justified the decision.
Slater has a reputation for being one of the most attacking openers in Test history, although an average of 42.83 and 14 hundreds clearly show he was more than just a blaster and a biffer, although his talent could have allowed him to average in the 50ís. However, his desire to attack worked perfectly in the 1994-5 Ashes contest, where he was all too happy to gorge on the pies thrown by Phil Defreitas and Martin McCauge. In the opening match of the 2001 Ashes he immediately dampened the spirits of a rowdy Birmingham crowd (who had been buoyed by a 10th wicket English partnership of 103) by taking 18 runs off Darren Goughís first over. His exuberant batting obviously made him a very enjoyable player to watch, and his undisguised joy at reaching three figures (bat swung wildly in the air and a kiss of his helmetís crest) only increased his popularity, although the fact that he was dismissed a record breaking 9 times in the 90ís perhaps showed a small mental chink. The one country where Slater really struggled was India. However, as an opening bat in an era where India was the only unconquered frontier for the Australians that isnít a massive surprise. Logically, his attacking instincts should have been ideally suited to the limited-overs game, although he was actually too aggressive when faced with a white ball, and this compromised his ability to build the big innings which a non-bowling opener has to make. In domestic cricket he suffered from a similar affliction, as his desire to immediately attack a new bowler backfired to the extent that he failed to average 40 for either New South Wales or Derbyshire in English county cricket.
Slater is now an engaging and intelligent TV commentator, although his calls for Matthew Hayden to be dropped in the 2005 Ashes series were somewhat surprising, as Haydenís situation (a great track record spoiled by poor recent form) almost exactly mirrored Slaterís own in the 2001 Ashes. His success on the small screen has been welcome, as the last five years have seen him have to contend with the break up of his marriage, scurrilous (and untrue) press articles about him and the disclosure of his suffering from bi-polar disorder (effectively manic depression). Such a decision to go public with this condition was a brave one, as the sporting world (and society in general) is still much happier talking about physical injury than mental illness. The erratic behaviour which is a concomitant of such a condition was also a secondary factor behind his dropping in 2001, where the Australian hierarchy felt his behaviour both on and of the field was potentially disruptive to the team. Slaterís batting exploits will always be remembered with affection by those who saw them, and it is to be hoped that the soul baring which he has done since his retirement will only increase the respect in which cricket fans hold Slater.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)