Brisbane, 25 November 1994
During backyard Tests in the late 1970s, out back of 17 Hardy Avenue, Wagga Wagga, Michael Slater would imagine himself to be Viv Richards. He'd chew gum, he'd hoist, and then sway his Slazenger 5 Star high above his head to loosen up, and he'd impersonate Richards' across-the-line technique, knowing that if he connected with the pot-plant holder, his reward would be 10 runs. At 10am on 25 November 1994, he performed a similar routine. The key difference on this occasion was there was no compulsion to hit across the line. Phillip DeFreitas' first ball of the first over of the 1994-95 Ashes series was slow, short, crooked, and Slater square-cut it for four.
By over's end, aided by a characteristic Philip Tufnell misfield, Slater had cuffed another four, and Mike Atherton's England had had its fill of Phils. After nearly three hours, the sole "howzat" had reportedly emanated from the children's lunchtime Kanga Cricket demonstration. At stumps Australia were 329 for 4 - the first 300-plus Ashes opening day since Keith Stackpole's happy hookathon of November 1970.
Slater did not curtsey to tradition or expectation. And every Ashes summer since, his name has been invoked and his example whispered in proverb: beginnings are everything. In 2001 Slater himself banged 4nb-4-0-4-nb-0-0-4 off Darren Gough; in 2002-03 Nasser Hussain elected to field till eternity; in 2005 Steve Harmison wounded three men in an hour. In the latest instalment, least plausibly of all, Harmison's timorous cobweb-clearer materialised in second slip's hands. One imagines Slater, peering down from Channel 9's commentary box, might have been chewing his gum and smiling his smile a fraction harder and wider just at that moment.