Adam Voges becoming a household name is undoubtedly one of the more peculiar things to have happened in cricket.
It is highly unlikely that cricket fans outside Australia were familiar with the unassuming West Australia batsman just about 12 months ago.
Right now, Voges’s name is being bandied around with Sir Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar after an astonishing period that culminated with his Test average being perched at an astounding 97.46 — only a fraction behind Bradman’s mythical mark.
After causally, even routinely, notching up 239 against a bewildered New Zealand during the first Test in Wellington, Voges finally saw his unbeaten, record-breaking streak end at 614 runs. It easily eclipsed Tendulkar’s previous landmark of 497 Test runs without getting dismissed.
Voges has now scored five centuries, including two double tons, in his first 14 Tests. Cricket has a knack of producing late bloomers, with Mike Hussey’s stellar rise in international cricket almost a decade ago being a prime example.
But Voges’s overwhelming success has come out of the blue. No one, not even his biggest admirers in Perth could have anticipated anything like this. The 36-year-old’s destiny appeared set in stone before his call-up to the Australian Test team last June.
Before that, Voges’s dreams of wearing the cherished Baggy Green seemed futile. He had chiselled away for more than a decade at first class cricket, consistently scoring runs to be the fulcrum of Western Australia’s batting.
He had occasionally represented Australia in the shorter formats, and generally equipped himself well but a call up to the Test team seemed frustratingly beyond his grasp despite his consistency in the Sheffield Shield.
Even among his state team, Voges was often overshadowed by sleeker but less reliable players in Marcus North and Shaun Marsh, who were given numerous opportunities to carve out long Test careers.
His name was rarely amongst the chatter when a spot opened up in Australia's team. Voges was always viewed as a dependable and gritty player but his steady game wasn’t particularly eye catching.
Australian selectors kept gravitating towards alluring types such as Shane Watson and Marsh, whose occasional flash of brilliance would garner selection but their lack of gravitas meant they were always a liability at Test level.
In the background, in typical understated fashion, was Voges. Plying his trade on the other side of the country, far removed from most of the nation’s cricket scribes and talking heads, Voges was easily neglected.
As the years wore on, Voges’s advancing age appeared to be the biggest obstacle to a belated Test call-up. But his consistency in domestic cricket wore down the naysayers and dubious Australian selectors. He was also helped by a creaky Australian batting line-up which often wobbled noticeably overseas.
Voges received his long awaited call-up during Australia’s tour of the Caribbean last June, where he scored a Test century on debut.
Like his teammates, Voges had an erratic Ashes campaign but survived the axe, ironically, because of his age.
After an exodus of senior batsmen, Voges’s maturity and renowned leadership was required for an Australian team undergoing a rebuild under new captain Steve Smith.
Voges was the oldest Australian to appear in his first Test match at home since Bob Holland made his debut in 1984 as a 38-year-old.
Smith’s first innings’ declaration against New Zealand in Brisbane last November robbed Voges the opportunity of scoring a first century on Australian soil but, fittingly, he achieved the breakthrough during the next Test at his beloved home ground of the WACA.
After being dismissed for 117 in the second innings, he would not be out to the red ball in Test cricket for another four months. Read that sentence again if you must.
Unsurprisingly, he has had an ounce of luck along the way, notably when he was bowled by Doug Bracewell early in his innings in Wellington but was reprieved by an incorrect no-ball call from umpire Richard Illingworth.
Due to his record-breaking deeds, it doesn’t even seem like hyperbole to suggest Voges is reminiscent of Steve Waugh at the crease.
Assured and blessed with a healthy dose of composure, Voges curbs probing bowling with a rigorous defence marked by a full face of the bat. He doesn’t appear innately attacking – he rarely goes the aerial route — yet he punishes bad deliveries ensuring runs are scored faster than it seems.
Voges is at the stage of his career when mind and body are in perfect sync. Right now, he can literally bat for days. You feel he’s only going to perish to a gem of a delivery; he isn’t going to gift his wicket. Inevitably, having so suddenly elevated himself among the demigods, Voges has been met with a certain amount of cynicism.
Critics point to his underwhelming Ashes campaign where he scored just 74 runs in his first six innings, struggling on the seaming English decks, whilst conversely bullying the hapless West Indies for whom he averages a staggering 542. Even acclaimed Australian cricket writer Gideon Haigh was somewhat dismissive of Voges’s feats believing they were largely attributed to a decline in Test cricket.
“(It is) indicative of how poor Test cricket has become,” Haigh said on Australian television in the aftermath of Voges’ 239.
No doubt, Voges will come crashing down from these heady heights. After all, no one has come close to matching Bradman’s phenomenal average over the long haul.
At the same stage as Voges, Hussey had an average of 86 after 14 Tests but eventually finished with a more believable (although still highly impressive) 51.5 from 79 Tests. Unfortunately for Voges, he’s unlikely to have a prolonged Test career like Hussey, who made his debut at a more youthful 30 years of age.
While it is fun to muse over statistics and legacies, what is undoubtedly more important in the wider spectrum is that Voges is helping mould Australia into a Test powerhouse.
If they beat New Zealand in this two-Test series, Australia will indeed become the number one ranked team but that mantle is essentially trivial because of the convoluted ICC rankings system. There is no legitimate number one team; everyone seemingly has flaws particularly away from home.
But Australia is best placed to become undoubtedly Test’s best, both in the short and long term because they possess a powerful attack fuelled by a bevy of talented pacemen. What has held them back from being a consistent juggernaut, particularly away from Australia, has been a flimsy batting order which has relied heavily on Smith and Dave Warner.
Voges’s experience and dependability coupled with Usman Khawaja’s maturity has suddenly transformed Australia’s susceptible batting unit into a formidable force. Voges’ leadership and reliability are important characteristics in Australia’s makeup and in many ways he’s become the fulcrum of the team.
Much like Chris Rogers, his former long-time teammate at WA, Voges is enjoying an unexpected late career renaissance.
It surely won’t get any better than this but you feel, even despite the inevitable drop-off and his advancing age, there are a few more special Test moments ahead for Adam Voges.
First Published On : Feb 15, 2016 18:50 IST