'I felt the most free of my whole career'
Michael Slater was virtually unstoppable in the 1994-95 Ashes and he talks to Peter English about first-ball boundaries, making Mark Taylor fume and celebrating instead of getting his West Indies inoculations
It was my first home Ashes series and I scored really consistently in a really great team. With three hundreds in five Tests I was stoked to back up what I did in England in '93. To start with 176 in Brisbane was phenomenal. I was so excited and nervous. The first morning was electric and I was so pumped up.
I hit a four first ball off Daffy DeFreitas - it was swinging away but I saw it swinging, it was a bit short and wide enough for a good cut shot - and hit another later in the over. All my nerves went into the shot. The four later in the over went over gully and was out of control. At that point the Australian crowd went beserk and I noticed a few of the England players' body language changed. A couple of heads - not all of them - went down and you could see they were thinking "here we go again". At Edgbaston in 2001 it was a bit of blur when I hit Gough for 16 in the first over, but I remember the fieldsmen behind me almost giggling at what was happening.
In Brisbane it was a terrific day, although I'd put on nearly 100 with Mark Taylor when I ran him out. The rate wasn't something I was thinking of much [his strike-rate was 72 and he hit 25 fours]. It was very productive but I was still disappointed I got out. I was trying to accelerate and instead of lofting Graham Gooch I hit him to mid-off. Caught Gatting bowled Gooch hasn't happened very often. I soaked up the crowd as I raised my bat and all but one of my team-mates was really happy with me. 'Tubby' Taylor was furious: "What did you do that for? You could have got through the day but you went and committed Hari Kari."
I got 103 in the second innings of the third Test at Sydney, where the end of the match was weird and we hung on. Tubby and I decided we'd bat normally [the target was 449] and we made a good start. The nature of my innings was the longer I was there the more aggressive I'd become, and Tubby was playing a lot of pull shots so we had a lot of confidence. We really enjoyed batting together and whenever I walked out with him I felt very secure. Our midwicket conferences would start off very focussed at the start and then get more light-hearted as we went on.
We focussed right through this partnership and set little targets and at 0 for 200 we thought we might be able to do it. Then I got out and Tubby got out and wickets started to fall quickly [Australia went from 1 for 208 to 7 for 292]. We had to clamp down and at the end Tim May thought it was time, but because of some rain there were more overs to be bowled. We were starting to cheer the draw, but they had to go back for two more overs. That game showed how hard it is chasing big totals. There's the pressure and things shift quickly. It was a draw but it felt like a win.
I felt the gods were on my side in Perth when I was dropped three times. Dev [Malcolm] was bowling like the wind but didn't get a wicket in the first innings. Dev had a slingy action and was so unpredictable. A couple of spells in that match were the quickest I ever faced. He forced me to fend a ball and the edge went to Gooch and he dropped it while diving.
When I was in about my 60s I hit an easy caught and bowled but Dev dropped it. I didn't know it at the time, but Dev was quite blind. Then I top-edged a ball and started to walk off because thought I was caught by Dev - he made a mess of it. I was assisted with my 124, but once you get going at Perth you're hard to stop.
I hadn't thought too much about the Man-of-the-Series award until just before the presentation when one of the guys said I was a chance. With three 100s I thought I might be and there were two Toyota Ravs. The prize went to Craig McDermott [32 wickets with four five-fors] and he had been awesome throughout the series. He was a great spearhead.
It was Gatting and Gooch's last Test and we sat in the home dressing room for hours and hours. There were about eight blokes and sitting there talking with guys I had watched for years was amazing. I was 24 and my friends would never have believed what was happening. We were supposed to get inoculations for the West Indies trip that followed and I got in trouble for not being there to get the yellow fever one.
Series in England always feel different, but for this home Ashes I was still riding the crest of a wave. I was going up and up rapidly and my memories are it was the time of my life. I was such a free spirit when batting - I felt the most free of my whole career. My defence was solid, my technique was good and I wasn't yet in the phase when I became a bit looser. My batting was safe and I just loved it.
Michael Slater scored seven Test centuries and four fifties against England in 20 matches