Cricket: Innings evokes a dash of Denis

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AFTER THREE such incredible days of cricket, it is almost impossible to be cool, dispassionate and reflective about any of it. Michael Slater's innings was one of those which everyone who saw it will remember to their dying day. Of course, he might have been given run out by the third umpire when he was only 35, and probably should have been, but even that cannot alter the essential fact that this was one of the most phenomenal innings in the history of Test cricket.

It was not Slater's fault that, from the pictures he saw, the third umpire was unable to make up his mind. Slater is the most ebullient of cricketers. He thrashed jubilantly about him in the second innings in Brisbane and he did something similar - if in a slightly lower key - at Adelaide, but this left the other two far behind.

It was technically brilliant in a dashing, extrovert way which all too few cricketers are prepared to attempt these days, let alone able to accomplish. He was on the look-out for runs from the first ball of the innings and an early cut behind square for four off Dean Headley made one sit up and take notice. By then, Mark Taylor had gone and, when Slater repeated the stroke, Justin Langer was back in the pavilion.

This was the growing context of the innings. Wickets were continually falling at the other end and Slater must have found on him the extreme pressure of the situation, in that Australia might then have been losing a match from a potentially impregnable position.

Slater must also have been all too aware of how important it was that he did not get himself out. Yet he never gave the faintest impression that either thought had even crossed his mind.

In 1947, 1948 and thereabouts, Denis Compton may well have batted like this and if he did, one can understand why those who were lucky enough to be able to enjoy and appreciate him say that there has never been anyone quite like him. Slater now, with his daring footwork, some cheeky improvisations and the glorious, darting extrovert flair, cannot have been so very far behind him.

The statistics of Slater's innings, considering this was one played on a pitch which was turning square (although admittedly against only one spinner) were amazing. Perhaps the most intriguing of all was the fact that Slater scored a higher percentage of his side's runs than any other batsman but one in a Test match since the very first innings of all, in Melbourne back in March 1877.

Slater's driving was the best and most exciting of all the strokes he played. He is of medium height and slightly built but he is strong and wiry with that heaven-sent gift of timing which is given to so few. Twice he came down the pitch and drove Peter Such - who bowled his off-breaks admirably - far over mid-off for six and once he spun like Steve Waugh and swept him with violence over mid-wicket for another.

Later, he came down the pitch to Such, drawing away to leg to leave himself a little room, and drove gloriously through extra cover. Graeme Hick, who had just been moved back to long-off, was powerless to do anything about it. When Gough came back after lunch, perhaps feeling an ankle, Slater launched into a clubbing cover drive which simply smashed the ball past mid-off for four.

Later in the over, Gough tried a slower one and it disappeared back over his head to the Noble Stand boundary. Needing four for his hundred, Slater again faced Gough and another flailing drive through mid-off made sure he did not linger long in reaching that landmark. Come to think of it, I doubt Compton gave the impression of hitting the ball as hard as Slater did now, for his timing was supreme and his touch so felicitous.

After tea, Slater returned to multiple applause, immediately played another cut at Headley, got an edge and departed to the standing ovation to end all standing ovations. His departure left us feeling limp and exhausted, yet as exhilarated as one might be after watching a high-wire trapeze act at a circus, performed without a safety net. Cricket has not seen a much better high-wire act than this and, I can assure you, there was no safety net.