Australia opening batsman Klinger has arrived in Bangladesh to play for Khulna in the ongoing BPL T20 2017. The right-hander scored more than 22,000 runs across all formats throughout his domestic career before finally being called up to the Australia T20I side. Klinger, the two-time Big Bash League winner for Perth Scorchers, gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Tribune
where he shared his experience regarding the BPL, his long and illustrious domestic career, Australia cricket and future plan, among other topics. Here are the excerpts:
This is the first time you’re playing in Bangladesh through the BPL for Khulna. How are you feeling at the moment?
I heard about BPL a lot. I heard every year this tournament is getting bigger and better. A lot of international players have come to play this year, obviously with the best local players. It’s a new challenge for me. It’s a different condition compared to where I am used to playing. For me it’s a great challenge to perform in this condition. I am grateful that I am playing for Khulna. We have a very good team, wonderful coaching staff and team management. So far the opening week with the team was very comfortable for me. The playing group has becoming closer to me already after just one week. All the staff and team management are being unbelievably good. It’s a very well organised franchise and set-up for a team.
I played with Mahela [Jayawardene] in the IPL (Indian Premier League T20) for Kochi Tuskers Kerala. Also played against him in England and also in the Big Bash. I know him fairly well. So it would be nice to work with him as well. Hopefully I will get selected and perform for my team.
Will you share with us your career summary…
I have played for three first-class teams. Started with Victoria. I grew up in Melbourne. My family was in Melbourne. Then at the age of 27 I moved to South Australia (where I had) Adelaide Oval as homeground. Played six seasons there. Four seasons ago, Justin Langer called me. He was the coach of Western Australia and Perth Scorchers. At that stage Marcus North, the Test player who played 21 Tests for Australia, just retired. So Langer wanted to have a senior player in the side. After a long discussion, I agreed to move over there. It was probably the best move I made in my career. JL is a fantastic coach and person. I probably learned more in these four years working with JL compared to my whole career. Obviously he was the coach of the Australian T20I side this year when I was picked to play three T20Is for Australia against Sri Lanka. For that I am grateful to him. I am sure he had a little bit of say on that selection. So it was a great last four years for me. Last four years has been great. I got lot of success, won two Big Bashes and one day competition. It was big fun.
When you were the captain of the Australia U-19 side, Michael Clarke played under your leadership. Later, he became the skipper of the Australia national team. Yet, you did not get the opportunity to play for the Aussies. Any regret on that front?
Obviously I would love to play more for Australia. I was fortunate last year after a few good Big Bashes in a row. Finally I got the chance play some T20I cricket for Australia in February, 2017. At least I can say I got a national team cap and represented my country. But definitely I would have loved to play Test cricket for Australia. That was my goal while growing up. But there were a lot of good players around then. So it’s extremely tough competition out there. I would love to play more, but about regret I think from my side, I’ve always been a hard trainer and I put up performances. But unfortunately sometimes the timing was not great and sometimes they went for a younger player. Probably if I played my best cricket in the early 20s of my career rather than late 20s or early 30s then I think I probably would have gotten more chances for play for Australia. So I probably played my best cricket a little late in my career.
How frustrating is it for a cricketer in the Australian system to score thousands of runs yet not getting a call-up to the national side?
At times it can be frustrating. I suppose you still look at where you are playing to do the best for the team. Until a year or two ago, always my goal was to play Test cricket for Australia. And it was not happening. I was doing my best to help my first-class team to win matches and make the finals. But as I said, if I would have played my best cricket in the early 20s of my career rather than the late 30s, then it could have been different. There was a shift after the golden era of Australian cricket like the Waughs, Hayden, Langer, Brett Lee, McGrath, Warne and Ricky Pointing. There was a shift after that period and they gave chances to younger players. And at that stage I was in my late 20s. At that time, there were some good young guys like Phillip Hughes, unfortunately he is not any more, and Usman Khawaja. They also performed well early in their career. Actually we all were performing well. But as they were younger than me selectors went for them. I can understand that it would have been nice if I got an opportunity. But I understand the situation as well.
Usually you batted as an opener or at No 3. For those positions, Australia had plenty of options in Matthew Hayden, Langer and Adam Gilchrist. Do you think it would have been easier for your to get a call-up if you hadn’t been an opener?
I don’t think so. I think if you can make runs in the top of the order then you can bat anywhere. But probably in that era or just after that era I started to perform my best. So I have no complaints competing against Langer, Hayden or Gilchrist or those sort of great players. Due to my age, it was more on the next lot of players coming like David Warner and Steve Smith. In that case, I think they were six-seven years younger than me and performing similar to me. So they got the opportunity and they turned out to become great players for Australia in the end. Anyway, I think if you can score runs in the top order then you can bat anywhere. In T20s, sometimes you need specialised batsman in certain areas. But you can also fit in. Like I batted at No 3 in a few matches. But in general, the best batsmen are always flexible and can perform in different positions where the team need them.
Did you prepare yourself to bat down the order for Australia? Michael Hussey is an example in that he played as an opener at times but also batted in the middle order for Australia. Do you think you could have fitted in the middle order if given the opportunity?
Definitely I was ready. But the selectors did not think I was ready (smiles). It was not my choice. But that did not happen. But as I said, if you can score in the top order, which is obviously the toughest place to bat, you should be capable of batting anywhere in the top six.
You were batting on 99 not out while playing for Victoria, inching closer to your first-class century. But captain Paul Reiffel declared the innings against Tasmania in 2001. That created a lot of buzz on social media…
At that time, we knew that we are going to declare 20 minutes before time, to get some wickets from the opposition before lunch. Overnight I was not out on 10. And we were scoring quite quickly. And I was on strike in the next over when the declaration came. It would have taken one more minute (smiles). But…to be honest at that time I was young, I was happy to be playing first-class cricket. So I was enjoying my cricket and I was happy that I scored 99. But until a few years later I did not score another hundred. So later I felt it would have been nice if I had that century under my belt. I met with Paul Reiffel later. He is an umpire now. Hopefully at some stage, he might have given a couple of lbws as not out (smiles).
Your best innings in first class cricket…
There are quite a few. I scored 102 while chasing 360 against New South Wales in 2007. It was against Stuart MacGill on a turning pitch in the fourth innings. I think I have scored six double hundreds in first-class cricket. Those double centuries were special too because you need a lot of concentration to bat that long. One of them was against Tasmania with the pink-ball in one of the day-night games in 2015 during my first year with Western Australia.
In 2008-09, you switched to the Redbacks and scored tons of runs with an average of 70. It was your peak time. Do you think that was the best time to be called up to Australia?
I think I had two periods of peak times in my career. One was the first two years for South Australia. Those two years I was performing in all formats. Probably my first two years for Western Australia was among my best as well. I was performing in all formats as well, including one-dayers and in T20s for Scorchers.
During those two periods probably I was most close to getting a call-up for the Australia national team for Test cricket. But unfortunately that did not happen. But it’s okay. I must say, I am very fortunate to play first-class cricket for almost 19 years in Australia. Especially as an Australian player, not many people are able to do that. So I am sort of proud of myself for that.
You scored 22,163 runs across all formats before getting a chance in the national side. You then played three T20Is against Sri Lanka. That’s some kind of a record. Was it frustrating to score 22,000-odd runs before getting the opportunity?
Is it? I did not notice that (smiles). I think 21,000 was not enough, so I had to score 22,000 before getting a chance (smiles).
As I said, at times it was frustrating. But I also look at it as, I have been very lucky to play in the Australian cricket system for almost 19 years. Not many people are able to play for that much time. Proud to perform in three formats consistently. I would love to play more for the national team. But it did not happen. And you had to move on. I have grown up as a better long-form player. Up until five-six years ago to now, probably I am best suited in T20 cricket now. And hopefully that can extend my career for the next few years. I love playing T20. Hopefully I can keep playing for Khulna and other tournaments around the world and that could be really good fun.
You are 37 years old. How much time do you reckon you have left before retiring?
As long as I remain fit and enjoy my cricket then I will keep playing. But more important thing is, when you get older you have to perform more consistently. When you are not performing in the mid or late 30s then you will be dropped very quickly. So for me until I am performing and enjoying myself in different counties like in Bangladesh with Khulna or in the Big Bash with Perth or in England with Gloucestershire, I will play as long as I can.
Did you have any role model while growing up?
I love Ponting’s batting. In the last T20I series against Sri Lanka, we had three great coaches. Justin Langer head coach, and Ponting and Jason Gillespie. But I love watching him play while I was growing up. I have played against Ponting a few times when he used to play for Tasmania and it was a great experience. But I never got the chance to play with him unfortunately. That would have been great.
Who do you reckon is the best captain for Australia, Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh or Ponting?
I spoke to Justin Langer about his playing time under Steve Waugh. And he thought Steve was really a hard nut type player and a very, very good captain. Guys who are playing now and played under Ponting thought he was great too. He was good on and off the field as well with his players. New players felt very welcoming under him. Everyone enjoyed his company. About Border, Taylor honestly they were before my time, so I don’t know that much. But I have heard so many good things about Steve and Ponting.
Who is the toughest bowler you have faced in your 19 years of first-class cricket?
When I first started my career, I think facing Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz were tough at the Gabba in four-day cricket. Facing those two pacers with the new ball was tough for me.
Bangladesh played well in the 2015 World Cup. But recently they faced a tough tour of South Africa. You have played first-class cricket for so many years in Australia. Do you think Bangladesh need to play more Test cricket in order to improve their performance in the away tours?
Tough for me to comment on this issue as I don’t know really well about the cricket system or structure, development squad or how much resources Bangladesh have . Other than that, I watched the recently concluded Australia-Bangladesh Test series closely. It was a fantastic and competitive series. Bangladesh won the first Test match and win against a team like Australia is a huge effort. I think the biggest challenge for any sub-continent side is to perform well overseas. You can only do that by playing more overseas. You will not become a better player by playing in the nets. It’s about playing matches and being put under pressure in those condition. I think by playing more competition overseas will certainly help them to play better.