Slats: The Michael Slater Story
Author: Michael Slater
Publisher: Random House Australia
Rating: 3 stars
By Archie Mac
26 Dec 2005
I have read close to two hundred cricket player biographies, and I think this one is the rawest life story of them all. Michael Slater seemingly shies away from nothing from allegations of drugs, to clashes with teammates, to a marriage break up. The one constant throughout is his dedication to the game of cricket. This is a true modern cricket biography not simply documenting a players career, but the baring of a man's soul, who just happened to be good at hitting a ball with a piece of wood.
The chapters in the book take their names from song titles most of which are from Michael Slater's favourite band Bon Jovi. The chapters are occasionally interspersed with 'Drinks Breaks', in which he talks about amongst other things his relationships with Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. While being full of praise for fellow Wagga boy Mark Taylor (whom also wrote the forward to the book) his relationship with Steve Waugh seems a little more strained. 'Tugga and I had an uneasy relationship. It was a strange one - there seemed to be a tension between us, hovering just below the surface'.
The young Michael Slater had some early personal problems, he was bullied at school, and some students even formed an-anti Michael Slater group. Around this time (14-16) his mother also left the family, you could still feel the hurt in Slater's words, all these years later. These problems affected his school studies, but did not seem to hinder his progress in sport. As well as being a junior cricket prodigy he was also a fine hockey player.
The Slater rise was rapid from junior representative teams to the Australian Cricket Academy, Michael Slater seemed to be doing it easy, but a bicycle accident left him with ongoing pain, the problem was eventually diagnosed as ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which is a sort of arthritis of the spine. AS caused Michael Slater a lot of difficulties for the rest of his career, the condition was eventually to force Slater to retire from cricket.
After being selected for NSW, Slater had only played a handful of games before he was a surprise selection for the Australian Ashes squad to tour England in 1993. A couple of good performances early on and some indifferent form from his competitors saw Michael Slater make his Test debut. A fine century in just his second Test at Lords propelled Slater onto the road of fame and fortune. After reading the book I really think Slater was just not mentally ready for his meteoritic rise to the top. His fiance, who had flown to England to spend time with him, noticed a difference in his personality, saying basically that he was self-absorbed.
Things started to go wrong for Slater when he was dropped form the Test team for the first time. The reason given was that he was displaying poor shot selection; his average of 47 was not enough to save him. Michael Slater now believes Geoff Marsh the then Australian coach was involved in the decision to have him 'dropped' from the Australian team. Slater believes that Marsh wanted him to bat in the same manner that Marsh had adopted throughout his career (slow and steady) instead of the impulsive way that Slater preferred to play. He also believes Marsh held some resentment issues because Slater had taken his place in the Test side.
After Michael Slater made it back into the team, the wheels in his personal life were starting to fall off, his marriage to his long time sweetheart had broken down (the break was initiated by Slater) he was on anti depressant medication for anxiety attacks, he was perhaps drinking to much and he had started smoking. Arguments with teammates and coach John Buchannan were taking their toll on the sensitive Slater.
By the time of the 2001 Ashes series Michael Slater was struggling, after a good opening Test match, he had illadvicedly asked his wife to join him on tour to try and sort out their marriage. His 'personal life was in freefall' his batting form fell away and he was dropped from the team for the 5th Test. He was particularly upset with the way Steve Waugh handled the situation of his second and final dropping from the Australian team. Slater accused Waugh of 'trying to play God'. This episode also seems to have affected his friendship with Australian vice-captain Adam Gilchrist.
Michael Slater seems quite happy with his life now, he is off the medication, is in a happy relationship, and loves his commentary work. I could not help thinking while reading this book, what a waste, of a great talent, but by the end I thought the personality was the batsman and the batsman was defiantly Slats.