March 3, 2001

Tigers prolong Klinger's agony on gloomy day for Victoria

For twenty years, Victoria has been on the wrong end of history in first-class matches in Hobart. Today, its present captain found himself carving a rather unfortunate place for himself in the record books too with an astonishing declaration on day two of the Pura Cup match against Tasmania here at the Bellerive Oval.

Never before in Australian first-class matches has a skipper effected an innings closure with one of his batsmen resting on a score of 99. But that all changed here.

Even under a glorious expanse of blue sky, this was - in many ways - a gloomy day for Victoria. Captain Paul Reiffel tried to force a better outcome by closing the Bushrangers' first innings twenty-four minutes before lunch at 5/393 - even, amazingly, to the point of leaving twenty year old Michael Klinger an agonising one run short of a maiden first-class century.

In the urgent search for Pura Cup points and, more specifically, Victoria's first outright win in this state since 1981, Reiffel felt that he couldn't afford to waste any further time prolonging the Bushrangers' innings. He had always wanted at least four overs at the Tasmanian batsmen before lunch and was even undeterred by the fact that Klinger would have been back on strike at the start of a new over if the closure hadn't been made.

"It's probably the toughest thing that I've ever had to do as captain," said Reiffel after play.

"It's not nice and I didn't want to do it. I would have loved to have seen him get a hundred. He really deserved it."

"Unfortunately, the team comes first ... he's a team player playing a team game."

Reiffel stated that Klinger had been aware of the situation, had coped with the decision well and that he accepted that the team's fortunes clearly assumed precedence over those of any individual.

Alas, the declaration came very much as a shock tactic to the small crowd watching on and subsequent events didn't exactly vindicate the move. Reiffel's bowlers and fieldsmen struggled throughout the afternoon, as the rejuvenated Dene Hills (74*) and Michael DiVenuto (63) joined with captain Jamie Cox (41) to steer the Tigers toward a total of 2/202 in response.

Hills and Cox made slightly scratchy starts and there was one strong caught behind appeal against the latter in the third over of the innings. But it wasn't long before they were playing with assurance and doing so sufficiently attractively to register Tasmania's highest opening partnership of the season. The former even found time to surpass and then shatter his previous individual best score (of 28) of a generally wretched first-class summer.

After Cox made one of his few mistakes and played back to a John Davison (1/56) off break that caught an outside edge and flew at comfortable catching height to Matthew Elliott at slip, DiVenuto was in full cry. The stylish left hander has been the target of approaches from other states of late and there is talk of a move next season. But, after he had battled for the first ten minutes of his innings to cast aside the poor form that has dogged his batting recently, he looked right at home and set about producing a series of typically flourishing attacking strokes.

Even if Hills did not exactly bat with the same degree of flamboyance, the Tigers were well in command from almost the very moment at which their innings began. The visitors also came to be badly handicapped by the absence of all-rounder Ian Harvey, who will take no further part in the match after his right thumb was broken during the morning in the midst of an excellent, unbroken spell from the spirited Andrew Downton (4/95) at the River End. Reiffel's declaration, accordingly, began to assume increasingly cruel proportions.

This is not to entirely belittle the veteran player's actions, though. The Victorians' plans were, in fact, revised as Klinger made his approach toward the potential landmark. Originally, eyes had been set on a closure exactly ninety minutes into the day but an allowance of two further overs was conceded as Klinger entered the nineties.

Notwithstanding the quick departures of Jason Arnberger (173) and Harvey (12) to Downton's bowling at the other end, Klinger had played in attacking fashion throughout the morning and was scoring just as productively as at any other time as the fateful last over began. He glanced the fourth delivery to the right of a fieldsman stationed on the deep square leg fence and looked inclined to return for a risky second run. But he was sent back by partner Darren Berry (12*), who was then unable to give the strike back to the youngster from the fifth ball.

In the end, the circumstances conspired completely against Klinger. It was indeed close to the most galling of cricketing tragedies that the due reward of three figures never came.