Adam Voges deserves some respect

Paul Potter Roar Guru

By , Paul Potter is a Roar Guru

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    It was entirely one-sided when Australia faced the West Indies at Blundstone Arena in 2015.

    With that lack of competitiveness comes with it the temptation to not only put something in context, but in too sharp a context.

    As Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh received a plethora of what might be termed easy runs to several fielders on the fence, the need to contextualise their achievements compared to the success of other individuals when the West Indies were stronger was obvious for proper analysis. The need to appreciate their craftsmanship was less obvious, but no less of a need.

    Neither could afford not to care. Marsh was only in the team because Usman Khawaja was injured, and even 182 wasn’t enough to prevent exclusion when Khawaja was available for Boxing Day.

    And Voges… Voges was 36. This wasn’t his 111th Test, it was his 11th. While he had played well in the previous series against New Zealand, and pulled Australia out of trouble on Test debut in Roseau with 130 not out, he had failed in the Ashes.

    Two half-centuries in his last two innings of the series was enough to secure his place for the start of the Australian summer, but he would have been under no illusions. His age meant that he needed to keep recharging his Test spot whenever possible, and only big runs could do that.

    Adam Voges scores a run in Sri Lanka

    Double-centuries certainly fitted the bill, and Voges scored two of them in his Test career; 269 not out at Bellerive and 239 at Wellington. In doing so, Voges joined a select group. Only 24 men have scored more than one double hundred in Test cricket.

    It is worth dwelling on that, because a single hundred is hard enough. To double up, and to do it twice, is quite a feat.

    Barring a surprise recall, Voges will have played 20 Tests when he retires from all cricket. After the 239 at Wellington, his last twelve innings saw 21 fewer runs. Combined with series defeats away in Sri Lanka and at home to South Africa, it was enough to see him out of the team.

    The battery was flat. The total number of Tests he played compared to the rare breed who have scored three or more double centuries gives some indication as to the different level of talent. Don Bradman is there, of course. He also has the lowest number of Tests out of the group, with 52.

    But hang on a moment. When Allan Border retired, he had played more Tests than anyone else. He only scored two double-centuries. No one could credibly suggest that Voges was a better Test batsman than Allan Border. Yet the second of Border’s double centuries, his 200 not out against England at Leeds in 1993, was not his most important innings.

    When he came out to the crease, Australia was 3-216. England would lose the Ashes at the end of this match, and Graham Gooch would resign the captaincy with it.

    The milestone itself was brought up in an appropriately understated way – a late cut to third man for a single, a quick acknowledgement, before Border and Stephen Waugh walked off the ground with the scoreboard reading 4-653 declared.

    Border could have gone on. It wouldn’t have been for the sake of the match, but if he had wanted to, he could have gone on. England’s bowlers could have found themselves bowling for the entire Test based on the first two days if Border forgot about the declaration rule.

    Steve Smith was in much the same situation at lunch in Bellerive. Voges was on 269 not out, a bit longer probably wouldn’t risk the match, but he felt it was time to declare, so he did. ‘Probably’ didn’t cut it.

    During that innings at Bellerive, I lost count of how many singles were hit to deep-set fielders. I will forever have the image of a single being hit to deep point burned in my brain when that match is mentioned.

    When Mark Ramprakash scored his hundredth hundred in 2008, Michael Atherton wrote that is worth quoting because it touches on how to think of Voges Test career. ‘Sport is neither just nor unjust,’ Atherton wrote, ‘it simply reflects time and again an absolute truth.’

    In 2016, the Frank Worrell Trophy wasn’t Dean Jones hitting Curtly Ambrose through point for four. It was Adam Voges hitting Jason Holder to deep point for a single. There was a weird kind of heroism to an innings that was simultaneously prolific and boring. Here was an ATO employee as a Test batsman, collecting the right amount of tax from every ball. No more, no less. Conditioned to make the most of every opportunity.

    Adam Voges scores his maiden double century against the West Indies (AAP/Dave Hunt)

    An absolute truth is that the cricket world has experienced improvements in hitting but regressions in being able to defend grimly against top Test bowling. It is hard to get away from Voges being a symptom of this change and it helps explain why there are those who have a problem with him being a statistical anomaly.

    That day at the Bellerive Oval, there was no need for the latter, while the hitting was more in line with the more mundane overs of a one-day match. Yet if you do have a problem with that, Voges is the wrong choice of target.

    The inability of the West Indies to form a Test team that is competitive is because of factors outside his control, and is frankly a story you should be angrier about than wondering if Voges offends the statistical gods so much that you’ll be struck by the number thirteen from above.

    It takes a shorter amount of time to represent your country or region for 20 Tests than it did in the past. That Voges had to represent his country for less than two years to play 20 Tests when it took Graeme Pollock six-and-a-half years to play 23 should not be lamented, even if it means he must be included in a statistical list you may prefer he not be included in ahead of Pollock.

    Pollock was prevented from playing more matches because of apartheid. A government policy that was not of his doing, that swallowed the careers of many South African cricketers and did immense harm in society generally.

    Even if Pollock played for another country or region, it would have taken him longer than two years to play for that country or region 20 times. The reasons for this are not uniformly positive; the over-scheduling in the game, for example, deserves no applause. But there are also positive reasons that it takes less time.

    The advancement of technology means that it takes less time for people to reach their destinations. Professionalism means that cricket pays people to play year-round, instead of asking them to make professional sacrifices to play. Not all of them, but more than in 1970. The labour force is willing to work, to play more cricket during the calendar year.

    In sport, a Voges is more commonplace than a Border, more interchangeable. It is why the former was dropped before he retired and the latter retired before he was dropped.

    Voges is not the second greatest batsman of all time – does not even come close – but he is second on the list of highest averages across at least 20 Test innings. That’s innings, not Tests. That is all, but it is also enough. Enough for some respect.

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