Cricket: Slater serves up the cream

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The Independent Online
Australia. . 431


AS JENNY AGUTTER found years ago in Walkabout there is not much except bush past Sydney's western suburbs. Little comes from New South Wales, main town Wagga Wagga, except sheep, country music and, as Somerset found for the second Australian tour in succession, opening batsmen.

Four years ago Mark Taylor, who grew up in Wagga, came to Taunton low on confidence and patchy in form. He played and missed a few times but stuck at it and blossomed. Although a century just eluded him here he went on to make 839 runs as Australia romped the Test series.

Yesterday Michael Slater, Wagga born and bred, arrived at the County Ground knowing that Matthew Hayden's run-laden start to the summer had pushed him into second place for the right to partner Taylor at the head of Australia's batting order.

He responded with an innings of brilliance, falling just 12 short of a century before lunch, with 122 off 149 balls. He set the standard for a day of carnage in which a near-capacity crowd was peppered with sixes as Australia racked up 431 runs in barely 90 overs. Bad light prevented Somerset replying.

Among the cowering spectators was the England manager Keith Fletcher who saw Andrew Caddick hit for 90 in 22 overs.

Slater was quick to say afterwards that the New Zealander was a good bowler. 'He makes you play and has a bit of pace,' the 23- year-old said, although since a lie detector was not on hand he may have been just trying to talk him into the team.

Slater put back his wedding to come on the tour having rapidly emerged within the last year. This was only his fourth first-class century, but it is only his 13th first- class match which illustrates both how little first-class cricket Australians play and how quickly their selectors will back talent.

Talent Slater has in abundance, and although he lost Taylor - a boyhood inspiration - for nought in the second over he was unperturbed, punching the ball through mid-on with easy timing and driving thunderously.

His biggest weakness is an immaturity which leads to him being carried away and both David Boon and Allan Border were constantly coming down the wicket to keep his exuberance under control. 'The ball is there to be hit,' he said afterwards which is a cliche often uttered but rarely followed with such panache.

Not that his seniors were reticent. Boon, in ominous form, made 27 before being the debutant Jason Kerr's first scalp; Border's half-century came in 55 balls, Mark Waugh's in 50. The tail, inspired by Ian Healy's pledge of pounds 20 for the first six over the distant square boundary, threw the bat. Hughes was first over the fence to claim the goodies.