Remembering Spinner Kline

In memory of an Australian bowler who featured in one of the greatest series of all time

Ashley Mallett
Ashley Mallett
Kline (second from left), the man who couldn't bat to save his life in the nets somehow managed to outsmart Hall and Co.  •  Getty Images

Kline (second from left), the man who couldn't bat to save his life in the nets somehow managed to outsmart Hall and Co.  •  Getty Images

On February 1, 1961, as Australian wickets tumbled to the West Indian attack on the last day of the fourth Test, Norm O'Neill and 12th man Johnny Martin took the team's No. 11, "Spinner" Kline to the nets at the back of Adelaide Oval for what they hoped would be a confidence-boosting net.
For the next 15 minutes, Martin and champion batsman and part-time spinner O'Neill repeatedly clean-bowled Spinner, who hardly got a bat to any ball. So poor was his batting effort that a woman watching at the back of the net yelled, "You're hopeless, Kline. Waste of time you going out there."
When Des Hoare was bowled by Frank Worrell for a duck, the score stood at 207 for 9. The "hope of the side" gathered his gloves, pulled on his baggy green and made his way down the steps through a throng of SACA members. A man yelled in jest, "Won't be long now, Lindsay." All the members roared.
With a mixture of splendid defence, two cracking boundaries, and the patience of Job, Kline defied all the West Indians could throw at him and his senior partner, the indefatigable Ken "Slasher" Mackay.
Led by the Wes Hall, who seemingly pushed off from the sightscreen for every delivery; the greatest allrounder in history, Garry Sobers; medium-pacer Worrell; and spinners Lance Gibbs and Alf Valentine, the West Indies attack bowled a total of 120 eight-ball overs on that final day. But they failed to break that last pair.
Mackay took the last ball of the day from Hall, which rose and struck him fair on the chest. He had let the ball hit him through fear of getting an edge. Kline made his highest Test score, 15 not out, and Mackay finished unconquered on 62 to complete Australia's great escape.
So poor was his batting effort that a woman watching at the back of the net yelled, "You're hopeless, Kline. Waste of time you going out there."
In November 1960, in the first Test of that series, Spinner featured with his great mate Ian Meckiff in a brief last-wicket stand. As Wes Hall came in bowl, the scores were level. Australia needed one run to win.
Spinner pushed the ball to little Joe Solomon, close-in at point, and took off. Meckiff hesitated and ran full pelt for safety but Solomon threw down the stumps from side-on and the game was over.
The West Indies danced in glee. They thought they had won the match. Norm O'Neill and the Australians thought they had won.
In the wake of the first tie in Test history, Spinner said drily, "There was me running for a win and there was Meckiff running for a tie."
Over the years Spinner and Meckiff have been regular attendees at the Adelaide Test match. For more than 40 years the pair have been great friends with former South Australia and Test wicketkeeper Barry Jarman. At least once a year over many years they'd drive to Adelaide and hook up with O'Neill for a rollicking few days on board Jarman's houseboat on the Murray River.
One night as BJ, Norm and Meckiff spun stories over a convivial red wine or two, Spinner excused himself.
The time went by and Meckiff said: "Where's Spinner? He's probably fallen in."
Ropes secured the boat to a couple of trees at a secluded spot on the river. There was a plank from the back of the boat to the sandy shore. They found Spinner hanging on to the side of the boat, saturated and laughing his head off.
The next day he announced that he had lost his glasses. Two days later, when they returned to that mooring spot, there the glasses were, murky water washing over them on the shoreline.
In 1961, during Spinner's England tour with Australia, the side played a couple of one-day matches in Ireland. In Belfast the wind blew to near-hurricane force, but Richie Benaud was determined to lead his side onto the ground. He wasn't keen to bowl into the wind that wild Irish day, though, and left that task to Kline. "Spinner wasn't the quickest through the air and he not only couldn't get the ball up, I doubt whether it would reach the other end," Jarman recalled.
Kline's finest bowling moment was his Test match hat-trick against South Africa in Cape Town in 1958.
He played 13 Tests in all, taking 34 wickets at an average of 22.82. His last Test was that drawn Test at Adelaide Oval where he made 15 not out. On the houseboat trips the blokes would always scold him over that innings: "How come you scored only 15 in a whole session? Terrible batting Spinner."
Now Spinner is gone, but the cricket family will never forget the man Barry Jarman calls a "champion."
He loved a good red and watching the television show Judge Judy. He is survived by his wife Stella, two sons and two daughters.
In the last year of his life, Spinner was greatly buoyed by the golfing prowess of his granddaughter, 17-year-old Olivia Kline, who in January this year won the SA Junior Masters by a whopping nine strokes at Royal Adelaide Gold Club.
We are all blessed to have known this gentle soul who spun a ball and a story so well. God love him.

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor