Michael Klinger-A modern-day run-machine
When cricketers move into their thirties, they commence an unwanted process of reflection. They remember their more nimbler years. Their prolific seasons with bat and ball, or the one handed blinder they took at gully. A show of restraint and defiance to their now ageing cricket bodies, they raise their willow at each milestone like it was their first. They hit the pads and appeal over exuberantly like they once did when they were sun-kissed and twenty one.
Desperate to defy this natural decline, a 35-year old, who debuted in the Australian domestic season of 1999/2000 is still going around-and going well. He is currently playing with his third state, and above all continues to exemplify the true Australian fighting spirit.
But amongst the religious cricket followers both here and in the heart of Bristol in the UK is the unanswered question, of why hasn't Michael Klinger ever been selected for Australia?
The start of a long innings
Klinger’s cricket journey began at the AJAX Cricket Club in Melbourne twenty seven years ago, when Michael was eight years old, playing in the under 12s.
A parent of a team-mate of Michael recalls the following story: When he was ten, the batting restrictions meant that a player would need to retire once they reached 35 runs.
Curly-haired Klinger was unbreakable at that level. He scored mountains of runs and that season he still hadn't gone out.
It was one of the final games of the year, played at Fawkner Park in South Yarra, the team’s home ground. Michael moved into the twenties only to then be run out and effectively dismissed for the first time that season.
Michael then trudged off the field in tears.
From the earliest indication, it was clear Michael was a special talent. Whilst continuing to dominate at junior level, he began playing at AJAX’s senior club. At twelve he was playing in the second XI, and making runs.
He made lots of scores in between 20 and 40. Due to his size, his innings’ were predominantly built on ones and twos as he didn't have the strength yet to hit the ball to the boundary.
At the age of fourteen Michael began playing Hatch (representative) cricket for Prahran District Club, before he joined their senior club to play in the then Victorian Cricket Association (Victorian Premier Cricket).
The run-machine warms up
March 16–17 1996, First XI, St Kilda v Prahran, St Kilda Cricket Ground: Coming off scores of 26* and 8* in his opening two innings as a First XI player, fifteen year-old Klinger batting at number seven, became the youngest player in the competition’s history to hit a century (125*) at that level. That remarkable feat stands to this day.
Klinger went onto play 48 matches at Prahran from season 1995/96–1999/00, scoring 1375 runs at an average of 26.96 . He then joined St Kilda Cricket Club from 2000/01–2007/08 and it was here he enjoyed prolonged personal success.
In his first year at St Kilda he played a small hand in a 125-run partnership with at the time a 31-year old Shane Keith Warne, against Melbourne. Klinger remained not out on 27 while Warne, even then couldn't make it to triple figures, losing his wicket on 95.
He hit 800 runs or more in three different seasons at St Kilda and in 2004/05 he became the sixth player to hit five hundreds in a season. That year was his best at district level, amassing 1105 runs at an average of 65 including five hundreds and three fifties. The following season he was awarded the John Scholes medal for the player of the finals.
A move interstate at the end of the 2007/08 season brought to a close an incredible Victorian grade cricket career-for now.
Australian (U19) career
From his Kew backyard to the expansive grounds of Mount Scopus Memorial College in Burwood. Klinger was about to drop everything to play cricket-in Pakistan.
His immense talent and potential was recognised by national selectors and he was called up to join the Australian under-19s squad to tour Pakistan in March 1997, as a weary-eyed 16-year old.
His first game was one to forget. Playing in a five-day test match at National Stadium, Karachi, alongside the captain for that tour Brad Haddin and Marcus North, (both who went on to forge successful international careers), Klinger was run out in both innings for 0 and 16 respectively.
November that year, Pakistan came and played a return one-day and test series in Australia. Klinger found some touch across the five limited overs games, scoring 171 runs, at an average of 57. He hit two half centuries including a highest score of 72* against a bowling attack that boasted current and former test players such as Imran Tahir (now South Africa), Abdur Razzaq and Shoaib Malik.
His best run with the bat came during the three-test match series in December where he scored 200 runs at an average of 40 including an innings of 102.
A month later Klinger played New Zealand in two one day games. He made a quick-fire 52* and came up against a future Kiwi star Kyle Mills.
The matches against New Zealand served as preparation for the MTN Under-19s World Cup in South Africa later that month.
Klinger accumulated 229 runs, averaging 57 across the six matches. He hit three half centuries and recorded a highest score of 64. He finished as Australia’s second highest run-getter behind all-rounder James Hopes. West Indian power-hitter Chris Gayle topped the runs table with 364 runs at an average of 72.80, including three fifties and a highest score of 141*.
In Klinger’s third and final year as an Australian under-19 player, he was appointed captain for the away tour against England in July-September 1999.
Ironically, he captained Australian legend Michael Clarke as well as other players who went onto play international cricket, such as Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz and Adam Voges.
Klinger’s coach at under-19 level, Allan Border was quoted as saying Klinger was a certainty to play for Australia.
Klinger’s domestic playing career kicked off in February 2000, where he made both his List A and First Class debuts for Victoria in the space of seven days.
He was picked against Tasmania at the MCG. He ran out Michael Di Venuto for 30 and then went onto carve his way to a man of the match-winning unbeaten 80.
A few days later he made 25 and 35 in his first class debut against New South Wales at the SCG.
Klinger struggled for consistency and opportunity at the Vics with a batting lineup often boasting the likes of Brad Hodge, Darren Berry, Ian Harvey and Matthew Elliot.
It was a moment in a Pura Cup four-day game against Tasmania at Bellerive Oval in March 2001 that still to this day hasn't been repeated. A 20-year old Klinger was one solitary run away from his maiden first class century when the then Bushrangers captain Paul Reiffel, infamously declared his side’s innings, cruelly leaving Klinger stranded on 99.
The next four seasons only yielded nine first class matches for Klinger, whose career was now in some genuine doubt. Four years and eight months passed since he was forced to leave the crease one short of his maiden first class triple figure score. Ironically, he was back at Bellerive Oval, with Reiffel, who moved into umpiring post retirement, standing at square leg, when he finally brought up that elusive hundred.
After eight seasons both Klinger and Victoria agreed to part ways. The Vics inherited prolific run-scorer Chris Rogers from Western Australia, while Klinger was guaranteed to open the batting in one-day cricket and bat at three in first class matches for South Australia.
The script couldn't have been written any more poetically for Klinger, who began his rise and rise at his new state with a clinical unbeaten 150 against his former side.
That knock was just a taste of things to come, as Klinger went onto double the amount of hundreds in one season that he scored over his eight-year stint with Victoria.
People in high places began to take notice, and how couldn't they, as Klinger finished the 2008/09 Sheffield Shield season with 1203 runs at an average of 70.76.
His limited overs return was just as impressive, scoring 469 runs at an average of 52.11, including an unbeaten 133 and four half centuries.
His strong domestic form was rewarded with Australia A selection in 2009 and 2010, however he failed to make a significant impression.
His run-scoring prowess and strong principles on cricket, earned him the Redbacks’ captaincy for season 2010–11 and beyond, entrusted with helping lead the state into an exciting and successful era.
And that he did. Two titles in as many seasons placed the Redbacks back on the Australian state cricket map after a torrid recent time.
Klinger led the Redbacks to an unexpected semi-final berth in the Champions League in South Africa that same year. Klinger’s contribution with the bat over the tournament was 226 runs in five matches at an average of 56.50.
His performance on that stage was rewarded with a $75,000 contract from the now defunct Kochi Tuskers in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Klinger’s dream start to his South Australian career culminated with back-to-back State Player of the Year awards in 2009 and 2010.
Klinger’s measured and workman-like approach was questioned in the shorter formats and he was asked to develop the attacking aspect of his game to better suit the limited overs formats.
His performances improved dramatically in the disciplines he was challenged in. With the gradual retirement of some of Australia’s greatest ever top order batsmen, Klinger was always over looked, generally for someone who hadn't compiled anywhere near the body of work he had.
After losing the captaincy to South African international Johan Botha in 2012/13, the following season proved to be his last in the city of churches.
Klinger was only offered a one-year deal and was given no guarantee that he would be a regular in the Redbacks’ squad going forward, with the board more inclined to refresh their stocks and bring through the young talent.
In a shock move, Klinger signed a two-year contract with his third state, Western Australia, after six prolific seasons at Adelaide Oval.
It didn't take long to recognise that South Australia’s loss would quickly become Western Australia’s gleeful gain.
Klinger played an integral part in helping the Perth Scorchers win its second Big Bash League (BBL) title in a row last season, leading the competition for runs, after he amassed 326 runs at an average of 36 in his first season with the team.
His unbeaten 105 against Melbourne Renegades was the first of only two centuries scored in the entire series, and proved to be one of the highlights.
“It was one of those days that everything just clicked,” Klinger said.
“My celebration was a little bit carried away. I got pretty excited with the moment.”
Klinger managed 1046 runs (second only to team-mate Adam Voges) at an average of 58.11, including four hundreds and three fifties in Western Australia’s Sheffield Shield season, in which they came runner-up to Victoria.
His Matador BBQs One Day Cup form earlier that season was typically reliable, scoring 96 in the final, which the Warriors won, to go along with an average of 45.66 across the seven-game tournament.
Klinger’s 2015 County campaign was from the top shelf, with Australian cricket fans regularly waking up to headlines such as Klinger helps end county trophy drought, Phenomenal Klinger flies back to book Lord’s date, Prolific Klinger sends Gloucestershire into semis, Klinger ton sees Gloucestershire home, Essex triumph despite Klinger ton and Klinger marks return to Britain with a bang, just to name a few.
Due to playing and family duties back in Australia, Klinger did not play the full LV=County Championship season, but when he did he managed 468 runs at an average of 46.8 including two centuries.
His limited overs output was nothing short of exceptional, piling on 531 runs in eight Royal London One-Day Cup innings, with three hundreds and two fifties. Remarkably, of his own accord, Klinger flew back from Australia to the UK for Gloucestershire’s semi-final, where he single-handedly booked his team a spot in the final at Lords with an unbeaten 137 against Yorkshire. In the T20 Natwest Blast competition he was unstoppable, plundering his way to 634 runs from 12 innings, and a lazy three more tons.
Despite turning 35 this past July, Klinger has no imminent plans of retiring, with his immediate future at Western Australia intact thanks to a dominant summer last season. He also re-committed until 2017 to continue playing and captaining English County side Gloucestershire.
He still follows AJAX’s progress with a keen eye and attends social functions whenever he is back in his home state.
The Michael Klinger (Rising Star Award) has been given for over ten years to the best young player at the senior club during a season.
Klinger has recognised the support the Australian Jewish community has given him over his 17-year professional career, often distributing some of his playing gear and kit to the club that gave so much to him.
Despite never receiving that phone call he has worked so tirelessly for, Michael still harbours hopes of one day soon fulfilling his dream of representing his country.