The substitutes are part of most of the sports. In cricket also the substitutes are a constant presence. Either they are used to give rest to the fast bowlers or used in case of injuries. One of the most memorable substitutes was Garry Pratt who famously ran out Ricky Ponting during 2005 Ashes which played a key role in deciding the result of the series. Pratt became a cult figure and even got a place in the open top bus parade post-England’s Ashes win after 18 years.
Even there were some unusual substitutes from opposing players or team management personals. A young Sachin Tendulkar had substituted for Pakistan team during their 1987 tour in one of the festival matches and even almost caught a Kapil Dev skier. An incident remembered fondly by Tendulkar in his book ‘Playing in My Way’.
On this day, 23rd February 1996, during the Cricket World Cup Michael Slater had a bizarre experience of substituting for two teams in one day. Slater who celebrated his 26th birthday just a couple of days earlier was not picked for Australia’s match against Kenya in Visakhapatnam. This was Australia’s first match of the tournament as they refused to play their opening match because the match was scheduled in Sri Lanka.
Once Michael Slater was excluded from the first eleven along with Damien Fleming and Shane Lee, he probably hoped for a leisurely day with few appearances during drink breaks. But fate had planned something different for him. The commentary team who were assigned the responsibility of the match reached Visakhapatnam in parts and in desperate need of some more people to be in the commentary box. They reached out to the Australian team and identified Slater as a potential candidate. Slater was always a good speaker as displayed by his earlier interviews and hence picked for the role after the approval from his team management.
He started with the pitch report as most of the senior commentators like Tony Greig was still on their way. Slater even managed part of commentary during the match which saw Australia piling up a 300 plus total against the Kenyan team. The Waugh brothers came together to add 207 runs with Mark scoring 130 and Steve contributing 82. Slater did no harm to his reputation and was free from his duty by the half of the match as the rest of the commentators reached the venue.
But after five overs in Kenya’s innings Michael Slater again got an emergency call, this time from his own team management. Craig McDermott was injured and could not carry on. Slater was out in the field and ended with fielding 45 overs of Kenyan innings. A target of 305 was any way out of Kenya’s reach. They still show some fight and reached 207 for 7 in their 50 overs.
Slater never played a match in cricket World Cup and this remained his most notable playing memory. On the commentary side, he was much more successful. He started commentary even before his retirement from playing cricket and now a popular member of the commentary panels during matches in Australia as well as in other parts of the world.
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