Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby describes the intense euphoria that washed over him when Arsenal won their first title for 18 years, with a Michael Thomas goal at Anfield from virtually the last kick of the 1989 English football season. "And then he was turning a somersault," he wrote, "and I was flat out on the floor, and everybody in the living room jumped on top of me. Eighteen years, all forgotten in a second."
Adam Voges claimed a most unexpected title of his own in Dominica, crossing out nine years of thwarted dreams with a hundred that made him the oldest debut centurion in Test match history. The journey to this point had been frustrating, maddening and often painful, but all those years of waiting made this a moment to savour enormously. It was also a journey that helped Voges shape his game into the neat, composed and adaptable model that drove the West Indies to distraction on a day that had seemed to be running irrevocably their way.
Among the greatest compliments able to be paid to Voges is that this looked not just the innings of a seasoned Test batsman, but that of a player near Michael Hussey's level in terms of versatility, match awareness and attention to detail. He found a way to thrive in conditions where none of Australia's other batsmen could establish a workable method, veering from the stolid approach of Steven Smith to the shot-a-ball extreme of Shane Watson. Voges, like a longtime supporting actor finally getting a chance to take the lead, showed them all how it was done.
The foundation stone for this innings was laid by plans made for another winter not playing Test matches, as the man to substitute for Chris Rogers at Middlesex. Voges' northern sojourn was shortened by his call-up, but he was still permitted to venture to Lord's for a stint of four matches that allowed him to return to the comfortable groove that he found while piling up more than 1300 runs for Western Australia last summer.
Contrast that with the preparation of every other member of this squad and you have most of the explanation for how the man with the least Test match experience could look the most collected and prepared member of the team. The IPL, holidays, promotional and sponsor work or lazy afternoons on the couch cannot compare to the value of time at the wicket against a red ball, even if the pitches, overhead conditions and ball are vastly different from one another. Voges has quite simply found the habit for hundreds over the past 18 months, and slipped straight back into it here, despite all the pressures and trappings of international cricket.
What Voges understood, better than anyone until the Australian tail proved admirably capable of similar comprehension, was what this pitch and bowling attack required. Patience, close attention to each ball and its subtle variations, and controlled, focused aggression at the right times to keep the bowlers from swarming. He had watched at the other end as Smith and then Watson attacked the wrong ball, while Haddin failed to stretch forward enough to adequately cover Devendra Bishoo's often extravagant turn.
Voges pounced on anything short, but did not try to challenge the spin when the ball was well-pitched, and kept his bat out in front of his pad to avoid any chances squeezed out to close fielders. He picked gaps, looked for singles and cajoled his partners to concentrate, extracting priceless occupations from Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon either side of a somewhat careless swish from Mitchell Starc. They were helped by the raw, painful state of Bishoo's spinning finger, which compelled Denesh Ramdin to use him in spells of medium length, and had the bowler offering up just enough dross to keep the scoreboard moving.
Still, when Lyon was pinned lbw to leave only one wicket left it appeared that Voges, like Hornby's Arsenal, would be left horribly, helplessly short of the summit. An unbeaten tally of 77 was proof enough that Voges belonged in this company, and runs enough to allow Australia to squeak ahead in the match. The last man Josh Hazlewood was capable and had played doggedly with the bat in the Antigua tour match. But a decade of falling short had left Voges well conditioned not to get his hopes up.
Living in the moment seemed to be the best policy, and Voges simply continued to bat. There was to be no giddy rush for the hundred, no swipes at balls not there to hit, and no self-recrimination at a wicket thrown away. Instead he set about establishing another union with Hazlewood, farming the strike a little, and ticking the scoreboard along. The calmness and nerve shown all day was now growing in value, and Hazlewood benefited from the counsel.
Suddenly, the milestone was looming. A well-placed loft took Voges through the 80s, then a misfield skipped him to 90. Jerome Taylor had bowled threateningly and well for much of the innings, but now he was dismantled as Voges, like Thomas at Anfield, chose his moment. A pair of twos, a towering six over wide long-on and a single took him to 99, and the relatively simple task of playing a typical leg side flick for that final run. The jubilation was tangible.
Where does this innings rank among Australian debut performances? For match situation, difficulty of conditions and quality of play it must sit very close to Michael Clarke's 151 at Bangalore in 2004, when he established Australia's base camp for the "final frontier" triumph in India. Add to that the emotional release of so many years waiting for an event that was at long odds of coming to pass and it is not an effort that will be soon forgotten.
Hornby could not find words to describe what he felt that evening in May 1989, but in his very inarticulacy he defined its power. "I can recall nothing else that I have coveted for two decades (what else is there that can be reasonably coveted for so long?), nor can I recall anything else that I have desired as both man and boy. So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium."
Adam Voges knows what he meant.