Despite being in the squad, Michael Slater   s first World Cup presence was behind the microphone    Getty Images
Despite being in the squad, Michael Slater s first World Cup presence was behind the microphone Getty Images

Australia played Kenya for the first time in international cricket on February 23, 1996. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a day when Michael Slater, despite being left out of the team, found himself as a substitute for two separate teams.

Michael Slater had appeared on The Cricket Show for Channel 9 in 1994, but when he was picked for World Cup 1996, little did he realise that his first appearance in the World Cup will be behind the microphone. Australia did not visit Sri Lanka during the World Cup due to security reasons, and Sri Lanka got a walkover in what was supposed to be Australia s opening match at Premadasa.

The first substitution

The Australians reached Visakhapatnam. Along with Slater, they left out Damien Fleming and Shane Lee. The commentary team also reached the venue in time, but unfortunately, they arrived without their full team. Desperate to find a commentator, they reached out to the Australian squad.

They eventually targeted Slater, who agreed to do it after the touring committee okayed it. I think I was recognised initially as someone who was interviewed fairly well and could string together a few words, he later told in an interview with Mid-Day. Slater even did the pitch report (instead of Tony Greig, who was a part of the delayed party), and held fort till the rest of the crew arrived.

Waugh and Waugh at war

While Slater was having his stint behind the stumps, Australia lost Mark Taylor and Ricky Ponting to the opening bowlers before the Waughs took charge. While Steve raced to an 88-ball 82, Mark went a notch ahead, registering 130 from 128 balls. The pair added 207 runs for the third wicket. It was the highest two-batsman World Cup partnership for any wicket (Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara, and Richie Richardson had put up 221 for a three-batsman opening stand as Lara was retired hurt, against Pakistan in 1992).

A few lusty blows from Stuart Law, Michael Bevan, and Ian Healy took Australia to 304 for 7. Though three of their bowlers Martin Suji, Rajab Ali, and Aasif Karim bowled 30 overs and returned figures of 6 for 154 between them, the Australians went after the others and took the score as good as beyond the Kenyans.

The second substitution

Craig McDermott struck early, having Dipak Chudasama caught behind. Unfortunately, he injured his calf after bowling three overs, and took no further part in the match. Given the circumstances, what better substitute could be obtained than Slater? After commentating for the initial stages of the match, Slater ended up fielding for the last 45 overs.

Otieno steps up

Despite losing Chudasama and their star batsman Steve Tikolo, Kenya battled on. Kennedy Otieno dropped anchor while his captain Maurice Odumbe went after the bowling. The pair added 102 for the third wicket (Kenya s first century partnership) before Odumbe fell for a 53-ball 50.

Otieno suffered from a leg cramp but came back to bat with a runner. He was eventually bowled by Glenn McGrath, but not before he had scored a defiant 85. A 17-year old Thomas Odoyo hit a couple of adventurous strokes to avoid a hundred-run defeat. Kenya eventually finished on 207 for 7.

What followed?

– McDermott never played another international match. He was replaced by Jason Gillespie after the game.

– Australia became runners-up in the tournament. Kenya did not reach the quarterfinals, but certainly did not disgrace themselves. Their win over West Indies remains one of the biggest upsets in the history of World Cup.

– Slater never played a World Cup match. However, he has been a commentator for multiple channels (he started with Channel 4 in 1999 when he was still an active Test player), and is right now with Channel 9.

Brief scores:

Australia 304 for 7 in 50 overs (Mark Waugh 130, Steve Waugh 82; Rajab Ali 3 for 45) beat Kenya 207 for 7 in 50 overs (Kennedy Otieno 85, Maurice Odumbe 50) by 97 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)