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SK Anecdotes: Michael Slater and a tattoo that nearly went wrong

A funny story about former Australian opener, Michael Slater, and his tattoo.

Slater played 74 Tests for Australia

Have you ever wanted something so bad that when you have it you display it everywhere? Well, that's what Michael Slater did, but there was an innocent twist in his tale that could have made for an embarrassing joke.

What's the background?

A little background is necessary to understand the crux of this story. Michael Slater, the New South Wales opener was picked in the Australian Test team for the Ashes series of 1993 in England. He was then told by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) that he would make his debut in the first Test of the series at Old Trafford.

Making a debut alongside him at Manchester, Old Trafford, was Western Australia player, Brendan Julian. Australia batted first in the match and Slater, an opener, was the first of the two debutants to be involved in the game. He subsequently assumed that he would be Australia's 356th Test cap and Julian would be 357th since he was first in the batting order.

An ecstatic Slater slammed a half-century in his debut innings. A passionate individual that Slater is, he ordered a special number plate for his brand new red Ferrari with the license number as MS356. 

Apart from this Slater also tattooed the number on to his body, a clear indication of how much regard he has in representing his country at the highest level. 

1993-2001

The next eight years passed by with Slater quickly elevated as one of Australia's most dependable openers in Test cricket. Although a bit too flashy, Slater managed to survive 8 eight years in the international arena, scoring 5000+ runs at an average of 42.83 in 74 Tests with 14 hundreds. 

During the latter stages of his career, Slater started to be a bit too flashy for the likes of cricket purists. The only time he seemed to be getting some runs, he was reprieved quite a few times. Slater also equalled the world record for the number of times he was dismissed in the 90s in Tests. He was soon dropped from the Test side for his flamboyant style that was costing Australia way too much. 

He went on air stating, “I'm not the only guy that's been left out of the side. And you know what, I'll come back bigger and better. My career statistics until now tell a story, you can't deny that.” But the comeback never happened and his Test career got stuck at 74 Tests.

A possible final nail in the coffin

Slater was the 356th Australian Test player

If the Australian selectors dumping him from Tests and Justin Langer, his replacement, thriving in Tests was not embarrassment enough in 2001, Slater had to go through another controversial saga. 

ACB communicated to him in November, 2001 that he was, in fact, the 357th Test player for Australia and Brendan Julian, who debuted in the same game eight years back, was the 356th. Unlike Slater assumed, it wasn't the batting order that determined the Test cap number instead it was the alphabetical order.

The Australian Cricket Board statistician at the time stated, “Most people would assume you would do it alphabetically.” Even the cricket board's website, baggygreen.com.au, had put Julian as the 356th cap and Slater behind that at 357 in the list of Test caps.

Lady luck smiles on Slater

ACB assessed the situation and called up both the players for a discussion after which it was decided that Michael Slater would retain his place as the 356th Australian player. 

The ACB Chief Executive Officer of the time, James Sutherland, was quoted in ESPNCricinfo as stating, “We understand that Michael was told he was 356 and as a result has always behaved accordingly.

“He has obviously gone to great lengths to demonstrate his pride not only in that cap number but also in playing for Australia and that is something to be applauded. [Referring to his tattoo and customised license plate number]. Given these fairly exceptional circumstances, we are happy to allow Michael to retain the number 356.”

He, however, did not forget to mention that from then on alphabetical order was the only criteria in which Test cap numbers would be handed over. “There has never been a hard and fast rule to cater for this situation, but to avoid any possible misunderstandings in future, from now on if more than one player makes their debuts in the same match, the allocation of cap numbers will be done alphabetically and not by batting order”, Sutherland said.

Slater would go on to become a favourite in the commentary box although his dream of adding to his Test caps remained unfulfilled. He would watch and commentate as the likes of Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden nailed down their opening spots in Tests with exceptional performances. 

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