Cricket: Slater strikes with savage force

Fifth Test: Australian opener escapes dramatic run-out appeal to punish determined England
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Australia 322 & 184 England 220 & 104-2

ENGLAND HAD to endure two controversial umpiring decisions as well as another Michael Slater hundred on another day of drama at the Sydney Cricket Ground. But, if the mistakes were unfortunate, Slater's century, his seventh in 16 Tests against England, was a spectacle few will forget in a hurry. If some hundreds are compiled, this one was created by a man whose boldness and power made light of a crumbling pitch on which just one of his team-mates made double figures.

There must be something about England's bowling attack that inspires Slater like no other, and well though Peter Such and Dean Headley bowled they were powerless against his muscular stroke-play and nimble footwork. Indeed, so dominate was his 123 that it contributed 66.85 per cent of his side's total, a percentage only bettered in Tests by Charles Bannerman, who contributed 67.34 per cent of the innings total in the first-ever match between Australia and England.

On a pitch now turning extravagantly Such took 5 for 81, though he might have gone for far less had Slater not been about. Using his feet to negate the spin, he hit Such for three sixes, two of them over long-off. It is an area only players of great power and verve would contemplate against a ball turning in to them.

But if they were the biggest hits, his most savage were saved for Darren Gough, who in spite of his hat-trick on the first evening has looked off colour. Returning from the Paddington End, Gough's three overs cost him 24 as Slater unleashed a series of lofted off-drives that Ian Botham and Gordon Greenidge would have struggled to hit harder.

One of them, a skimmimg blow that took about a second to crash into the boundary boards, brought up his hundred, a feat that took 165 balls. In fact, with Alex Tudor mysteriously bowling just five overs, only Headley, who once again bowled superbly to take 4 for 40, escaped punishment.

"I kept it as simple as I could," Slater said, explaining his masterful innings. "I decided to play my natural game and treat every ball on its merits. There was no point me being there if I wasn't scoring and, as far as I was concerned, I was just putting away the bad ball."

Slater needed luck, however, and it came when he was on 35. Batting with Mark Waugh, who clipped an off-break from Peter Such to straight mid-wicket, Slater, feeling a two was on, called Waugh through for a second run. What he did not reckon on was Headley's brilliant pick-up and throw from the deep, a return that hit the stumps at the bowler's end with Slater stretching to make his ground.

The response of the England players in the vicinity was unanimous and the back-slapping had commenced before umpire Steve Dunne called for the TV replay. Slater appeared pretty sure of his shortfall too, though he later denied it, saying he removed his gloves because he knew the umpire would "take quite a while to make his decision."

The man that needed convincing, however, was the third umpire, Simon Taufel, who had officiated in England's game against Queensland in Cairns. Taufel had already given Justin Langer not out in this match to a direct hit in the first innings. On that occasion,almost everybody else who saw that particular replay felt Langer, although close, was in fact out.

Slater also looked out, though the angle of the replay camera (only one per end as provided), as with Langer, was not precisely square on. To compound matters, Such, who was preparing to receive Headley's throw, had his leg in the way of one camera. Other angles, if also less than categoric, also provided strong circumstantial evidence that Slater had failed to make his ground.

"My first thoughts were that it was out," Slater said. "But only because direct hits that look close tend to find the batsman out of his ground. From the camera angles the third umpire had, it was the best decision he could make.

"I got the benefit of the doubt because of the camera angles. At the end of the day the umpire can only make a judgement on what he saw."

Taufel, a printer by occupation, has clearly read Betrand Russell or, if not him, at least the letter of complaint sent by Graham Gooch to the match referee in Adelaide. It was there, remember, that the third umpire had given Michael Atherton out, apparently in world-record time, after a dubious catch at slip by Mark Taylor had been referred to a replay.

Here the extra umpire appeared to dwell so long over his decision (at least four to five minutes seemed to elapse) that existential dread probably set in. England, it seems, had been hoisted by their own petard.

Yet whether Slater was in or out, the technology has once again been found wanting. If replays are going to be used for run-outs, the International Cricket Council must insist on countries using four dedicated cameras. In Australia, cameras would cost about A$6,000 (pounds 2,250) to hire, although yesterday's announcement by the ICC that financial backing for any such schemes will not be forthcoming means that for the time being, costs must be met by sponsorship, as is already the case in South Africa. Yet, while cricketing nous remains in short supply among some umpires, nothing less will do.

Such incidents can have far-reaching costs and if you took away the 88 runs Slater scored after the incident, England, now needing a weighty 287 to win, would have required just under 200. Mind you, had Slater failed, someone like Steve Waugh, despite coming in at No 7 with a dodgy hamstring, would probably have taken up the mantle.

Fretting over "what might have beens" has been known to distract sides, who take their eye off the ball. If the matter did irk them England did not show it and, having eventually bowled Australia out for 184, they began their innings positively, taking four boundaries off five balls in the opening two overs.

In view of the deteriorating pitch, both Alec Stewart and Mark Butcher had obviously decided to play shots at the pace bowlers while the ball was still hard. It was a sound tactic, though one that ultimately came unstuck when Taylor turned to spin and, more specifically, to Shane Warne.

On Sunday, Warne had taken a wicket with his fourth ball back in Test cricket. This time he had to wait until his sixth to bamboozle Butcher with a top-spinner delivered from wide on the crease; so wide in fact that his back foot cut the side crease and should have been called by umpire Dunne as a no-ball.

It is not the first time Dunne has missed something - he was the umpire who gave Atherton not out after he gloved Allan Donald at Trent Bridge. Of course, TV cameras, powerless to reprieve the batsman on this occasion, caught it as clear as day. Still, it was a foolish bit of batting, and Butcher's cavalry charge, more in hope than command, was no match for Warne's beautifully conceived piece of cunning.

Following his steady but unspectacular showing in the first innings, Warne had been contacted by his spin guru, Terry Jenner. Whatever the advice, it seems to have had an effect and, not long after bamboozling Butcher, he ripped three big turning leg-breaks past Nasser Hussain's bat.

Stewart, too, continued his positive vein against the spinners, twice clubbing Stuart MacGill for leg side boundaries against the spin. There is a thin line between being positive and acting in a reckless manner, and Stewart, this time using his feet to try and hit MacGill over the top, overstepped the mark. Like his brother-in-law he perished well short of his ground as Ian Healy, ever alert to human lunacy, whipped off the bails.

Aussies like Ian Chappell have long advocated batsmen using their feet to wrist-spinners. What Chappell does not tell those he advises, especially if they play for England, is that Australians have been doing it since the age of nine. To begin during the fourth innings on a turning pitch in the final Test of the series was unwise. After all, it was rash shot selection that Slater overcame to get back into the Australian team. So it is curable.

SYDNEY SCOREBOARD

Third day of five, Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 322 (M E Waugh 121, S R Waugh 96; D W Headley 4-62).

ENGLAND - First Innings 220 (S C G MacGill 5-57; G D McGrath 2-35).

AUSTRALIA - Second innings

(Overnight: 13 for 0)

M J Slater c Hegg b Headley 123

271 min, 189 balls, 11 fours, 3 sixes

*M A Taylor c Stewart b Gough 2

30 min, 25 balls

J L Langer lbw b Headley 1

11 min, 5 balls

M E Waugh c Ramprakash b Headley 24

79 min, 60 balls, 4 fours

D S Lehmann c Crawley b Such 0

12 min, 8 balls

I A Healy c Crawley b Such 5

36 min, 26 balls

S R Waugh b Headley 8

38 min, 29 balls, 1 four

S K Warne c Ramprakash b Such 8

23 min, 12 balls

S C G MacGill c Butcher b Such 6

46 min, 24 balls

C R Miller not out 3

15 min, 9 balls

G D McGrath c Stewart b Such 0

2 min, 2 balls

Extras (3b,1lb) 4

Total (287 min, 64.5 overs) 184

Fall: 1-16 (Taylor), 2-25 (Langer), 3-64 (M Waugh), 4-73 (Lehmann), 5- 91 (Healy), 6-110 (S Waugh), 7-141 (Warne), 8-180 (Slater), 9-184 (MacGill), 10-184 (McGrath).

Bowling: Headley 19-7-40-4 (2-1-4-0 5-1-14-1 4-3-1-1 5-2-11-1 3-0-10- 1); Gough 15-3-51-1 (8-2-17-1 4-1-10-0 3-0-24-0); Such 25.5-5-81-5 (2- 0-6-0 23.5-5-75-5); Tudor 5-2-8-0 (one spell).

Progress: Third day (overnight 13-0): 50: 101 min, 23.2 overs. Lunch 74-4: (Slater 47, Healy 0) 34 overs. 100: 191 min, 44.3 overs. 150: 248 min, 56.2 overs. Tea 178-7: (Slater 122, MacGill 5) 61 overs. Innings closed: 4.18pm.

Slater 50: 151 min, 99 balls, 5 fours, 1 six. 100: 245 min, 165 balls, 10 fours, 2 sixes.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Butcher st Healy b Warne 27

60 min, 47 balls, 3 fours

*A J Stewart st Healy b MacGill 42

83 min, 55 balls, 5 fours

N Hussain not out 17

64 min, 47 balls, 1 four

M R Ramprakash not out 14

41 min, 31 balls, 1 four

Extras (lb3,w1) 4

Total (for 2, 125 min, 30 overs) 104

Fall: 1-57 (Butcher), 2-77 (Stewart).

Bowling: McGrath 4-0-26-0 (1 spell); Miller 9-1-26-0 (6-1-19-0 3-0-7- 0); MacGill 8-1-27-1 (1w); Warne 9-1-22-1 (1 spell each).

Progress: Third day: 50: 48 min, 11.3 overs. 100: 111 min, 26.4 overs.

Umpires: R S Dunne and D B Hair.

Compiled by Jo King

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