Birthday special: Michael Slater – Dashing batsman full of style and flamboyance

One of Australia’s best batsmen of all time, Michael Slater is celebrating his 51st birthday today. Unlike the likes of Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and other great Australian cricketers of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Slater did not enjoy a very long career but it did not stop him from leaving his mark in the game.

In his illustrious international career that spanned from 1993 to 2001, Slater played 74 Tests. Before the likes of Virender Sehwag and Matthew Hayden redefined the role of a Test opener, it was Slater who took the bowlers to the cleaners in the longest format of the game. An explosive top-order batsman, Slater rarely wasted a chance to play the big shots in a format where most of the batsmen love to take a cautious approach.

Slater made his debut in Tests after playing just 12 first-class games and totally repaid the faith shown in him by the Australian selectors. His debut series could not have been bigger as he was handed his baggy cap for the Ashes of 1993-94. Slater made an instant impact in the first Test at Old Trafford and scored a fine fifty, helping Australia win the game by 179 runs. In the following Test, he did even better and scored his first Test ton at the iconic Lord’s. He scored 152 as Australia thrashed the hosts by an innings. By the time the series ended, Slater had scored 416 runs at an average of 41.60.

There was no looking back after that as he kept going from strength to strength. Slater had a habit of kissing the badge of his helmet after reaching his century and he did for 14 times in his career. The number could have been more but Slater was a victim of the nervous nineties. He was out in the 90s nine times during his Test career.

Only to the likes of Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had lost their wicket in the 90s more than him (10 times). But what makes Slater’s record incredible is that Waugh, Tendulkar and Dravid played nearly 100 Tests more than him. Slater played a crucial role in Australia’s rise as the strongest team in the world but unfortunately, he could not prolong his career.

The Ashes tour of 2001 turned out to be his last. After a prolonged dip in form and off the field troubles, he was dropped from the team. Justin Langer took his place and held on to it till his retirement. Talking about Slater’s ODI career, it is nothing less than a puzzle. A batsman, who never shied away from playing an attacking brand of cricket in Tests, surprisingly and ironically failed to do well in a format that demands an attacking game-plan.

He began his ODI career in 1993 in a spectacular fashion by playing a fine knock of 73 against South Africa but failed to live up to the early promise. The last of his 42 ODIs came in 1997 as he finished his career with just 987 runs and at a baffling strike-rate of 60. 40. In Tests, he scored 5,312 runs with the help of 14 tons and 21 fifties.