The intimidation of the Gabba is well known. An Aboriginal word for “fighting are”, the Gabba has long been Australia’s fortress. They haven’t lost a Test at the stadium since 1988 when they succumbed to the might of the West Indies. But the real journey to making Gabba a real home came in the 1994-95 Ashes series opener at the venue.
The 1994-95 edition of the Ashes began with England low on the confidence scale. They had a slew of injury concerns right through the series and very escaped the wrath.
It all started with Devon Malcolm and Joey Benjamin succumbing to the chicken pox. The onus fell on Phil DeFreitas to open the bowling for the English. Australia, on the other hand, were well equipped and had a full team to choose from. Mark Taylor had shown to be a capable skipper succeeding Allan Border. They had a strong batting line-up, fielding athletic and a well-rounded bowling attack.
Atherton would have loved to bat first here but Australia won the toss and opted to bat. Wisden describes the pitch that day as “Brisbane’s driest and most closely shaven pitch for an Ashes Test in more than 20 years.”
The Slater show in the theatre of Gabba
The very first ball set the tempo for the match and the whole series. DeFreitas delivered an outswinger shaping away from Slater but the opener punched nonchalantly, sending the ball scurrying to the fence.
England, struck by injury woes, drooped after the horrendous start which saw 26 come in the first four overs. Slater slashed, flicked, drove and celebrated, all with ruthless intention and effortless grace.
Shot after shot followed from his bats as the English shoulders drooped. When Phil Tufnell came into the attack, Slater hoisted him over the mid-wicket fence. The half-century came in 96 balls, deflating the English completely.
Two wickets fell at the other end and the visitors sniffed an opportunity. But then Mark waucame in to join Slater and the duo dug into some hapless English bowlers.
Atherton, clueless by now, instructed his quicker men to bowl just outside the off-stump and set Slater up with four to five fielders. It did not bring about the slightest change; boundaries continued to flow on either side of the wicket.
Slater was by now swishing his blades like a Ninja warrior, roughing up the leather with each and every shot.
Atherton then tried teasing the opener with the leggie as he neared the three figure mark. But instead of going berserk, Slater deftly paddled swept Tufnell for a triple and set about celebrating a fabulous ton.
Atherton was distraught by now and brought in part-timer, Graeme Hick. Slater greeted him with a pristine drive and then set about dismantling Darren Gough, driving him down the ground for a sublime boundary and then cross-batting Tufnell to the mid-wicket fence.
England brought in a mid-wicket and returned to DeFreitas, but Slater went right of mid-wicket and sent the ball to the fence yet again. As the bowler shortened his length, an exquisite cut followed and then a flick, a drive and a pull. Australia were well and truly up and running over England fielders now.
The 150 came up for Slater shortly, taking him 224 balls and adorned by 21 boundaries. Graham Gooch’s medium pace eventually have England the vital wicket of Slater. His 176 had taken a mere 244 balls and included 25 boundaries. Slater describes his dismissal as a result of being a “little bit too cocky”.
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The Guardian describes Slater’s marauding knock thus:
“[Michael] Slater’s strokeplay was enchanting but any admiration was slightly devalued by the feeling that the story had been seen before. There is a limit to how much more anyone can take, apart from those Australians classified as rabidly nationalistic. That should keep 90 per cent of the country happy. He set upon his quarry with a relish that suggested limitless ambitions.”
What followed was a familiar script. Slater’s dismissal followed a collapse and Australia were bowled out for 426 from 308/3. Mark Waugh was the only other Australian to score a bit of runs with his 140 as impressive as Slater’s 176. What it didn’t do though was mentally disintegrate the English.
A McDermott special cleaned up the visitors for 167 and without imposing a follow-on, Taylor set England 508 to win. Although England started off well, Shane Warne happened and spun out the English with 8/71 as Australia won by 184 runs.
There were several special moments from Aussie cricketers – Mark Waugh’s 140, Craig McDermott’s 6/53 and Warne’s 8/71 – but none had the authority and charisma exhibited by Slater in that first innings. His 176 stamped Australia’s dominance over the visitors at the Gabba, a tradition that to date remains unbroken.