Cricket: Slater finds timely form

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The Independent Online
Australia 323-3; Leicestershire

THE odds on Wagga Wagga providing Australia's first Test opening partnership shortened yesterday as Michael Slater revived his claim for the vacant place alongside his boyhood hero Mark Taylor. Slater, who followed Taylor from the New South Wales country town into the state team, improved his chance of completing the journey with a determined 91 as Australia's batsmen maintained their county domination.

Slater, 23, and fellow youthful opener Matthew Hayden were brought here with the intention of allowing David Boon, who made his third first-class hundred of the tour yesterday, to revert to the pivotal No 3 position. But Australia's early joy at the pair's irresistible form had dimmed in recent weeks as the flow of runs eased. With both Waughs and Damien Martyn in vibrant touch, Slater and Hayden were staring at the prospect of five days' balcony duty when they went out to open yesterday.

Hayden still is after an early dismissal but Slater made much of his opportunity, taking time to regain confidence then opening out with powerful straight strokes and neatly worked leg shots. But it was never as fluent as his century at Somerset (there he was 88 at lunch, here 44), and even Leicestershire's attack reined him in before Vince Wells took a sharp return catch shortly before tea.

It may or may not be quite enough to guarantee Slater a Test place although, with Australia 323 for 3, Hayden is unlikely to get a second chance to challenge. Boon, meanwhile, showed he will make runs anywhere.

The question is one of fine-tuning, compared to England, and Australian coach Bobby Simpson confirmed: 'It has been a very successful warm-up. We would liked the bowlers to have had a little more bowling but they have suffered from getting sides out too quickly. We are not taking much notice of England's problems. We must not be complacent.'

Perhaps it is to instil complacency that they have been sent to play the Championship's most curious team. In the continued absence of David Millns (expected back in July), Leicestershire are the only county without even a faint interest in tonight's England selection yet are within one match of successive Lord's finals.

Yesterday their attack was led by Alan Mullally, who, after failing at Western Australia and Victoria, had much to prove. The left- armer found Hayden's edge within 20 minutes but it was another 214 runs before they celebrated again. Wells followed Slater's wicket with Boon's, caught mid-off having stopped his shot. But they were isolated successes in a day that offered a fearful foretaste of the week to come.

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