Michael Slater: 15 facts about former explosive Australian batsman

Born February 21, 1970, Michael Jonathon Slater is a former Australian cricketer who played 74 Tests and 42 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for his country between 1993 and 2001. An explosive top-order batsman, Slater was particularly impressive in Tests, where he opened the batting and scored over 5,000 runs. A destructive batsman, Slater quite ironically could not build a great career in limited-overs cricket. A prolonged form slump and a rare disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis forced him to quit the game early at the age of 34. But he has continued his association with the sport since then as a commentator. On his 46th birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 15 facts from the life of the multi-talented sportsperson, who was equally good with hockey during his growing up years.

1.  Wagga Wagga: Slater’s parents Peter and Carole used to live in north-eastern coast of England, from where they migrated to Launceston, Australia in 1966 along with their two children Julian and Tracey. After staying there for three years, the family moved to a rural town of Wagga Wagga, where Slater was born and raised.

2.  Sports culture in family: Slater’s family was always involved in sports and it came as no surprise when he got inclined towards hockey, soccer and cricket in his early years. Though his father was a lecturer of agriculture at what is now known as the Charles Stuart University, he always encouraged his kids to take up sports.

3.  Early tragedy and solace in sports: When he was 12, Slater witnessed a tragedy in his personal life when his father and mother decided to separate and his mother left the home for good. In those turbulent times, young Slater could find solace only in sports. He had already been selected in the New South Wales Primary School Sports Association cricket team and hockey teams by then, and continued to excel in both the sports. A left-inner (an attacking player who helps out defensively), he made the state hockey team at Under–12, –13, −15 and −17 teams. But later he turned his complete focus towards cricket. He honed his cricketing skills at the famed Australian Cricket Academy (now Commonwealth Bank Cricket Academy) and ready for the top flight.

4.  Injury: At the age of 17, Slater hurt his Achilles tendon during an accident in school. The gravity of the injury was such that the doctors said his ‘dream of playing for Australia was over’. But after a successful operation, Slater made a surprising return to cricket and was selected in the Under–19 state team for the national championships in Brisbane. Though he did not perform that well in the matches that followed, Slater’s career kind of took off from here. He scored over 1,000 runs in his first full season with New South Wales (NSW) in 1992-93, which led to his first national call-up.

5.  Test debut: Unlike others, Slater was lucky enough to get his Baggy Green after playing just 12 First-Class games. It was during the Ashes of 1993-94 that he was selected to play for Australia. Making his debut in the first Test at the Old Trafford, Slater went past fifty in his maiden outing. Opening the batting, he scored 58 and 27 in the match that Australia won by 179 runs. He did not take long to reach to his maiden Test hundred, as in the very next game at Lord’s, Slater etched his name in the history as well as Lord’s honours board by scoring a fantastic 152 in Australia’s win by an innings margin. Slater scored 416 runs at an average of 41.60 in the six-match series that Australia won 4-1.

6.  Post-100 celebration: After reaching to his first Test hundred, an excited Slater instinctively took his helmet off and kissed the badge — the Australian coat-of-arms engraved on it. It is one ritual that he patented soon after would repeat it 13 more times in his career.

7.  Nervous in nineties: Slater was a victim of the nervous nineties syndrome and lost his wicket nine times in the 90s during his Test career. In this regard, he was second only to the likes of Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, who lost their wicket in the 90s ten times during their respective careers. However, all three gentlemen played much more than twice the matches Slater played during his career, which makes his percentage of getting out in the 90s significantly higher than the others.

8.  Personal issues took toll on career: Slater was dropped from the side in late 1996 after a one off poor outing against India, something which he found difficult to digest. Though he made a successful comeback in 1998 and things went well for a couple of years, the turn of the millennium spelled doom for him. He started having issues with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Stephanie and the couple split soon after, having a lasting impact on Slater. However, the two did try to reconcile and Stephanie even joined him on Ashes tour to England in 2001, which eventually proved to be his last series. The team thought he needed a break, while Slater thought otherwise. Justin Langer took his place, and held on to it till his retirement, while Slater shut himself from the world with lot of bitterness and anger in him. Prior to the entire episode, Slater had also been accused of ‘taking drugs’ by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) now Cricket Australia (CA), a charge he vehemently declined.

9.  Bipolar disorder: His marriage break-up and sudden closure to international career put him into a serious medical problem. It was soon revealed that he was suffering from bipolar disorder; a form of manic depression which resulted from panic attacks. However, with fabulous support from his girlfriend Jo and some professional help, Slater came out of it.

10.  Controversy including Adam Gilchrist: He might have had to face a marriage break-up and ouster from the team, but the worst was still in store for Slater. In 2002, he was accused by a website called Cricket365 of being the father of Adam and Mel Gilchrist’s first child. The Australian team, which Gilchrist was a part of, was on tour to South Africa. The fans inside the stadium carried these signs that read, ‘Baby Gilly, who is your daddy? – Slater, Slater’. It created a big wedge between both Gilchrist and Slater, even as they went through turmoil in relationships. A legal case followed, which Gilchrist won against the website. It proved that the accusations were false and with time, both the players once again became friends.

11.  Mystery illness: As if all the unwanted controversies and personal problems were not enough, a mystery illness proved to be the final nail in Slater’s career’s coffin. In December 2003, he was admitted to Sydney’s North Shore Private Hospital after he suffered from a mysterious disease Ankylosing Spondylitis — a form of reactive arthritis caused by an unknown virus — that left him unable to walk unaided. Its origin was traced to a bike accident Slater had at the Cricket Academy when he was 19 or 20. The same disease troubled former England captain Michael Atherton all through his career as well. This disease, coupled with back problems, more or less sealed his fate, as few months later in June 2004 he bid adieu to the game.

12.  Commentator Slater: With everything going against him, Slater fought and fought hard. He took up a commentary job in Australia’s Channel Nine network, where he works till now. His commentary job helped him come out of depression and though in this new role too he had panic attacks in the early days, he overcame all the challenges to bring back his life on track.

13.  Autobiography: In 2005, Slater came out with his autobiography — Slats – The Michael Slater Story — which he used as a tool to express his anger on being dropped from the Test team. He made a sensational revelation in it holding Steve Waugh, the-then Australian captain, responsible for the end of his career. The book quotes Waugh as saying that he [Slater] was disorganised and a threat to team harmony before the last Ashes Test in 2001.

14.  Nick names: Slater is fondly known as ‘Slats’ and ‘Sybil’ by his team-mates since his playing days.

15.  Beyond cricket: Outside cricket, Slater enjoys golf, cycling and weightlifting. Besides being a commentator, Slater has since retirement tried a whole lot of things. He appeared as a contestant on the Australian version of Torvill and Dean’s Dancing on Ice, becoming the 4th contestant to be eliminated. He has also tried reporting on Channel Nine’s health and lifestyle programme, What’s Good For You?. He is also a popular presenter and co-hosts rugby league’s The Footy Show besides hosting The Cricket Show on Channel 9.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)