Michael Slater faces his toughest battle
Michael Slater still harbours hopes of a recall to the Australian side, but at the moment he has a far more serious battle on his hands.
While Australia prepare to take on India in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, Slater is laid up in Sydney's North Shore Private Hospital, battling a mystery illness which has left him unable to walk unaided.
Unbeknown to most people, Slater has suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis - the same degenerative spinal condition which affects Michael Atherton - throughout his career, and on December 7 he was admitted to hospital with what was thought to be a recurrence of that ailment. At the time, his ankles were so swollen he was unable to walk.
But after undergoing extensive tests, doctors said that he was suffering from an unknown virus, and he will be discharged in time for Christmas but far from back to normal.
"Best case - he could be OK to play in the latter part of the season," said Greg Daniel, New South Wales' cricket mamager. "Worst case - it could be the middle of the year before he's fit enough again to play interstate cricket, so nobody really wants to make a call on it [his future] because it's probably too early to know how it will pan out.
"He's not at the stage of contemplating retirement or being out of the game," Daniel added. "He's got a belief he will beat it and get back to playing for NSW."
"Anything that stops you from playing can prove to be career-threatening, as I found when I was dropped in England two years ago," Slater said recently. "If you're out of the side, you're giving someone else an opportunity. But I'm very optimistic. I've been in this situation before and I'm confident I'll get back on top of it and be back to peak fitness shortly."