Don't look back in anger

Michael Slater, Australia's buccaneering opener turned pundit, on losing his Test place, illness and the Ashes

Michael Slater, Australia's buccaneering opener turned pundit, on losing his Test place, illness and the Ashes

Michael Slater: 'I am happy where I am now." © Getty Images
Are you fit and healthy these days? Yes, very much so. I had an arthritic condition similar to the one Mike Atherton suffers from but mine went into reactive arthritis and that forced me to retire. I am 90% as a consequence, I have to keep as fit as I can and look after my health as much as I can. But I am going great guns and I am not on any medication for anything and that is the first time for a long time. I went through a career with anti-inflammatories and it is a relief not to have to rely on any medication.
What caused the loss of form that cost you your Test place in the 2001 Ashes series? It was not so much a loss of form that cost me the place. Look at the statistics of the 2001 series and you will find I was under-scoring but I was one of three or four batsmen in the top order averaging the same. It was a difficult tour for the top order. My opening partner [Matthew Hayden] was averaging less than me, Ricky Ponting at No. 3 had struggled until the fourth Test at Headingley. It had been a new-ball series and it was the same for the England side. It was more the off-field things - I was going through a public divorce and once it became media-orientated, it became difficult. It was a tough period for me personally. I think Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist felt that dropping me, or "giving me a rest" as they put it, was doing me a favour. But it was the last thing I needed - I needed to be playing.
Do you blame Steve Waugh? I would have liked him not to have thought that way. His line of thinking was different to the way I felt. He had his point of view and beliefs and felt he knew what was going on at the time.
Four years on, do you agree with that decision? No, I don't agree with it at all. There was a bigger picture in terms of Australian cricket that needed to be looked at - you are playing with someone's job. I wasn't the only one who had underachieved at that point. There are many factors that need to be looked at before you take a very serious step and drop someone from their job, when it has been their job for eight years. It wasn't my first tour, I'd been around for a while. I don't agree with that decision and I don't think I ever will agree but you have to get over it and get on with it - and I have. There was anger there but no longer. There is no bitterness. There is a wish that things could have been different but if I wasn't going through that turbulent personal time, it might have been different in the middle anyway. It was hard to tell what was what at the time.

Slater says there 'is no bitterness' between him and Steve Waugh © AFP
How is your relationship with Steve Waugh now? It's fine. I don't see him much, our paths cross at the odd cricket function every now and then, but when we meet it's fine.
What did you make of the Ashes? It was electric. It's easy for me not being out in the middle any more. As commentators, we like a close contest - it makes our job easier. It's nice it wasn't one-sided and it was fantastic that England stood up to Australia. But I still wanted to see Australia retain the Ashes. It was an amazing series.
Is it easier commentating or playing? I am still pretty close to playing - it is not that long ago that I was out there. I get urges occasionally that I'd still like to be running around but I have commentated for long enough that I have made the transition and I am happy where I am now. This is a new skill and a new job and I am throwing myself into it.
You were a very attacking opening batsman and now Test batsmen across the world are playing in that way. Do you deserve some recognition for setting a trend? If people have isolated that and see me as a reason that Australia play the way they do, or Test batting around the world has changed, then that is a lovely thing. I played the way I wanted to play and I stuck true to it. It is not for me to say and it is not for me to go searching for an accolade, but if people think that, I take it as a huge compliment and certainly a way of playing that is commonplace now.
Is there part of you that wishes you had played against a stronger England side? There were some strong England sides we played against, some strong bowling attacks in the past. In 1993, although Neil Foster was in decline, there was still Andrew Caddick, a new boy on the block, Chris Lewis, Phil Tufnell, who was a good bowler, Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser. These sort of guys could bowl - all Australian batsmen had respect for the England bowlers. But I would have loved to have played in a series where it was so competitive and so tight like the one we've just seen. Batting against such a strong bowling attack is the absolute test of how good you are.
This article was first published in the October issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer