Cricket: Slater poised to face his greatest examination: Michael Slater is set to make his Test debut at Old Trafford tomorrow. Glenn Moore reports

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The Independent Online
NO OFFENCE to Mark Taylor but Michael Slater, who is expected to make his Test debut for Australia at Old Trafford tomorrow, had hoped to share his big day this summer with someone more attractive.

He also anticipated that the day he walked out with his home-town partner and acquired a new status would be marked by a man in black telling him 'You may kiss the bride', not one in white uttering 'Play'.

For until the Australian selectors offered him an Ashes place, Slater had planned to spend 21 August marrying his schooldays' sweetheart Stephanie. With Australia booked to play the sixth Test at The Oval, Stephanie was understanding enough to delay the wedding until mid-September.

'She was cool about it,' Slater said. 'As it got closer to the side being picked I thought I had a bit of a chance so she was coming to terms with the idea when it happened. We have only put it back four weeks so it was not too bad, although she has had to do most of the organising.'

The double-booking underlines the pace of Slater's recent rise after injury had interrupted an outstanding schoolboy career. Slater suffered hip and lower-back injuries in a bicycle accident while at the Australian Cricket Academy. This delayed his state debut until February 1992 but the promise showed in his two first-class matches came to fruition last season. He was one of three players to pass 1,000 runs in the Sheffield Shield as he played his way into the tour party after just 12 first-class matches.

'I was a bit surprised to be picked,' the 23-year-old said. 'At the beginning of the season I was just hoping to consolidate my New South Wales place. But I kept scoring runs.'

He has continued to do so in England, making 403 first-class runs at an average of 80 with one quite brilliant century against Andy Caddick at Taunton. Although both he and Mark Taylor grew up in the outback town of Wagga Wagga and play for the same state, that Somerset match was only the third time Slater had batted with his schoolboy hero.

Taylor, who played club cricket with Slater's elder brother, has seen a lot more of Slater recently. 'He is going to be an excellent player,' he said. 'I am very impressed with his footwork, he is very quick on his feet and uses the crease well.'

It is a view supported by Vince Wells, the Leicestershire bowler who dismissed him at the weekend. 'He looked a fine player. Very strong on his legs and happy to come down the wicket to the spinners. In the first innings, on a difficult pitch, he barely scored in an hour but hung in and got used to the wicket, then got on with it which is a sign of a good player.'

Slater batted for more than four hours for 91 in that innings and followed it with an unbeaten 50 in 54 balls. 'I think I have shown I can adapt to the situation and conditions, play my shots when it is on and tough it out when it's not,' he said.

Slater can expect some local support tomorrow. His English father, Peter, a lecturer, played for Lancashire League club Rawtenstall and emigrated to Australia before Slater was born. His supporters will see a nimble player with what one Australian journalist describes as 'ballerina's feet'. He plays the difficult on- drive marvellously, 'as well as any Australian since Greg Chappell'. He has, however, shown flashes of immaturity, hitting out - and getting out - when frustrated at Leicester, getting carried away with his stroke- making at Taunton, and it is this inexperience England must work on.

(Photograph omitted)

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