North Sydney, October 2004.
For years, early season one-day matches were the closest Australian cricket had to a season launch. New uniforms, new Channel Nine graphics, new players would all be unveiled on a few Saturdays and Sundays in October. Commonly a bright young thing would emerge to make a name for himself with a striking spell or ingenious innings, leaving Tony Greig, Billy Lawry, Ian Chappell or Richie Benaud to reference it for some years afterwards. Adam Voges was one of those men.
On the North Sydney postage stamp he emerged with a flurry of strokes, exploiting the opening stand of Marcus North and Scott Meuleman. Few at the ground and no one in the commentary box had seen much of him before, and their wonderment grew by the ball. Fifty from 38 balls was nifty, 100 from 62 breathtaking. He swung seven sixes, most to the leg-side boundary, yet showed a neatness of stroke production that suggested more substance than slog. By the time he was finished Australian cricket was toasting a new batting talent, with the possible exception of 11 baggy blue caps.
The New South Wales captain Brad Haddin flayed 120 from 110 balls in a futile chase, then found one of his more wry remarks for the end of the game. "That is the first time we have had a look at him," he said of Voges. "I am not sure if we want to have a second look."
Perth, December 2006.
For all his promise, Voges' lot in the following years was to play for Western Australia when the Test players were unavailable and then drop out when they were. In 2006-07 he made a stunning start, topping the national aggregates by December, but found himself on the outer ring again as the Test team broke up for a Shield round between the second and third Ashes Tests. Events took a turn as he fielded on the fence in the Lilac Hill Festival match.
"The WACA chief executive Tony Dodemaide came and tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Look mate, you need to come off the field,'" Voges recalls. "My initial reaction was, 'What have I done now?' because I was a bit upset to be left out of the state team and made that fairly clear. But I came off and got the phone call from Michael Brown saying, 'Damien Martyn's retired, you're in the squad for the Test, good luck.'
"It was a very senior team at the time, it was on a high after Adelaide. I stayed for the first couple of days of the Test but then went to Tasmania for a Shield game. I don't think I was overawed by it all but it was an amazing thing to get picked, and some of the newspaper headings were saying 'Adam who.' It was an amazing few days for me, Andrew Symonds got the nod instead, and to this day I don't really know how close I was..."
"That is the first time we have had a look at him. I am not sure if we want a second look"
Brad Haddin on Voges after his team was on the receiving end of a 62-ball ton
Perth, February 2009
That brush with the Test side seemed certain to be the first of many more extended stints. Voges, though, tailed off in his performances. One more century for the season was a minimal return, and an ODI debut on the Chappell-Hadlee tour that preceded the 2007 World Cup was the most fleeting of rewards. The following season passed without much in the way of incident, but in 2008-09, Voges became mired in his worst slump so far. So much so that he planned his wedding for March, oblivious to the prospect of an ODI call-up to South Africa.
"I knew I was going to Notts in 2009, but looking at the international schedule when we were setting the date hadn't even crossed my mind. So everything was done and set, people were flying in from all over the place. Once I got picked in the squad and didn't play in any of the [ODI] games I started to ask a few questions - what's going to happen here if I do get picked, am I going to be able to miss a game, will I have to postpone my wedding, what am I going to do? So I spoke to a few people.
"Andrew Hilditch rang me and said, 'We've heard this is the case with your wedding smack bang in the middle of the tour, but we're going to pick you and you'll have to tell us whether you're going to come or not.' I spoke to a few people, Justin Langer, my parents, my wife. She said, 'You can go, I won't be happy about having to change the wedding but this is cricket so I understand.' And then I spoke to Hilditch and Tim Nielsen, and they both said, 'We certainly won't hold it against you if you do decide to stay home, but we can't guarantee you anything either', which was fair enough.
"My mentality when I made my final decision was, 'Okay I'm going to skip this tour and get married', family's always been very important to me. And JL made a good point - 'First child, no question, death in a family, no worries, you go, where does a wedding sit in it all.' So I thought if I'm good enough I'll get another crack at some stage... I was back in for the one-day series at the back end of the Ashes."
India, October 2009
Putting marriage ahead of cricket had not pushed Voges too far back in the queue. In England, India and then South Africa for the Champions Trophy he was part of an Australia ODI team that tried to atone for the loss of the Ashes by notching a trio of notable victories. Most remarkable of these was on the subcontinent, where a horrendous list of injuries was not enough to prevent a 4-2 success. Voges hit the winning runs in Guwahati, and luxuriated in team celebrations as the final match was washed out.
It seemed he would go on from there, but a top score of 45 in his next seven ODI innings allowed others to move ahead. Mediocrity in the Shield kept him from Test calculations, even as the Futures League flushed it full of half-trained youths. Voges drifted, much as his home state did, through years without clear aims, focus or fight. They were not awful, but their talent promised so much more.
"I look back at that time and sit there and wonder: were we not good enough?" Voges says. "I don't think that was the case. We've had some very, very good players over the last 15 years. Maybe they didn't play as well as they can or maybe we didn't play well enough as a unit. In those years I've played in five games in Shield round ten, where we've lost, but had we won we'd have played in a Shield final. It's not that we've been miles away but we've stumbled at the final hurdle too many times.
"We had some troubled times as well, some blokes got themselves into a bit of strife, we lost some very good players in [Simon] Katich and [Chris] Rogers that set us back. Hopefully they're days we look on in five years' time and say, 'They were tough times but we've come over the hill.'
"Do you challenge yourself enough as a cricketer? JL has come on board and really challenged everyone in the whole WACA, not just the players but the board, the CEO, to our physio. You wonder were we doing that enough in the past. Our record suggests no, we weren't."
"My mentality was, 'Okay I'm going to skip this tour and get married', family's always been very important. I thought if I'm good enough I'll get another crack at some stage"
Melbourne, December 2012
Oddly enough, the man to rouse Voges from his slumber was Mickey Arthur, who joined Warriors in 2010 after parting ways with South Africa. Arthur replaced Tom Moody, who for all his links with the West seemed unable to snap the team out of a long period of torpor. The commission was for a coach to make hard decisions and impose his will, an ironic description given his later troubles with Australia, but Arthur made significant early progress. Chief among this was to recognise Voges as a man capable of more.
"I'd like to say I never got comfortable, but I probably did. I got snapped out of that pretty quickly by Mickey and JL, and two out of my last three seasons have been my most prolific scoring domestically. JL has been very strong with the group and brought values that are uncompromising but got the group to buy into them, and made them work unbelievably hard, and they've seen results from that. Guys are not going to respond to that unless they're seeing the results, and that's been a good thing.
"For me, guys who have really challenged me and taken me out of my comfort zone, particularly later in my career, where I've been a senior player in WA and often left to my own devices - 'He'll be ok, he knows what he's doing, we don't need to push him, he'll work it out.' What was terrific about what Mickey and now JL have done is they've challenged the hell out of me and made me work as hard if not harder than ever, taken me out of my comfort zone."
Duly focused, Voges began to trend back up as a batsman. The team's progress was interrupted by Arthur's recruitment by Australia, and his assistant Lachlan Stevens struggled to maintain the discipline he required, culminating in an abortive T20 Champions League campaign in South Africa in 2012. It all came to a head during a Shield and limited-overs double against Victoria in Melbourne, where an exasperated Stevens quit and the captain, Marcus North, followed him.
"I felt Mickey started pushing us in the right direction and we started to win some good games of cricket under him. Then he leaves and Lachy comes in, and Lachy was a young coach who was probably the opposite of what JL is. Didn't necessarily challenge the blokes enough, didn't feel like he had the authority to do it, then got to the stage with what happened in South Africa with the Scorchers blow-up and made his position untenable.
"In Melbourne we didn't have a coach, Northy resigned, Lachy resigned, we were a rabble. Myself and Adam Griffith our assistant coach were sitting there at the hotel going, 'Well, we're gong to have to try to make some plans here because we don't know what's going to happen.' Some tough times."
Adelaide, March 2013
Like an ambulance responding to an emergency, Langer stood down as assistant coach for Australia to take up the WA coaching job. Quickly he struck a rapport with Voges and the pair helped engineer the state's challenge for a Shield final berth in the tightest competition for years. After the penultimate round, every side was in contention for the final, and a miraculous defeat of South Australia in Adelaide put WA well and truly in the fight. But Langer had some old team habits to address first.
"We all went out after as a team and had a really nice dinner and celebrated well with a few beers," Voges says. "We got back to the hotel, it was Fringe Festival and we were staying at Mantra on Frome St, from where we could see Little Miss Mexico. So we went there, the whole team was there and had a very, very good night. We had a Shield game starting a few days later, and so JL worked out pretty quickly when we fronted up on the bus the next morning that the boys weren't in great shape.
"We thought all we were doing was grabbing our bags at the oval on the way to the airport, but it turned very quickly into 'Get your running shoes on, get your shorts on and start running.' That was a pretty significant moment in what's happened over the last couple of years. We'd always had the idea that if you win six points as a player it's a bloody hard thing to do, so you celebrate accordingly, and possibly we've gone over the top with that.
"He made it very clear to us that that wasn't going to be the case any more, certainly not to that extent and certainly not when you have to front up for a Shield game in a few days' time. We lost that game, outplayed Queensland for the first three days, then Ryan Harris smacked 80-odd , we went from having them 60 behind with five wickets in hand to them getting 250 in front very quickly and then bowling us out. JL still fumes about that game, purely because of the lead-up to it. That certainly hasn't happened since."
Sydney, January 2014
Langer's honesty was reflected in the approach taken by Darren Lehmann, who Voges glimpsed as Australia coach in a handful of ODI appearances after the 2013 Ashes. He had been part of the Champions Trophy team in Arthur's final days, and witnessed the ructions in the team that led to his sacking.
Under Lehmann, much of this tension ebbed away, though Voges was only briefly able to enjoy it. On Allan Border Medal night, Lehmann took Voges aside and very clearly and frankly outlined to him that he would not be part of 2015 World Cup plans. It was a punch to the solar plexus, but after his emotion subsided, Voges respected the manner of its delivery.
"Players want to know the truth," he says. "Not that it ever makes it any easier, but when you actually get the message and it's clear, you might not like it or the person delivering it at the time, but at least you walk away and understand where you're at. I find it amazing when players go away and say, 'I don't know what I need to do to get back in the team.' Generally you just need to score more runs or take more wickets, most of the time as simple as that. I find that a bit of a cop-out.
"But unless the coach is very simple and clear with that, it gives them an excuse to go out and say that. Communication is imperative. I've no doubt too that players respect people who've played the game and played it well. Those people seem to turn up with an instant respect from the players, purely because of what they have done. That doesn't necessarily mean they can coach, but it's a bloody good start."
"The whole team was there and had a good night. We had a Shield game starting a few days later, and JL worked out pretty quickly when we fronted up on the bus the next morning that the boys weren't in great shape"
On Western Australia's celebrations after a miraculous win in 2013
Perth, March 2015
Voges put together the season of his life in 2014-15, easily outstripping the summer in which he was made Test 12th man. He was not doing it out of any enormous desire to prove anyone wrong, nor any great hope that he would be able to make it on to the overseas tours for the winter. Instead, he was cajoled into further efforts by Langer, and compelled to be his best in order to finally help Western Australia lift the Shield.
He was unable to accomplish the final task as Victoria cornered WA in the Hobart final, but T20 and limited-overs titles showed WA were certainly on the right track, much as Voges himself now was. On the weekend of a World Cup final he had hoped to be a part of, Voges received a phone call from the selection chairman Rod Marsh - Middlesex was out, the West Indies and the Ashes were in. Speaking later to announce the squad, Marsh intoned the words: "You could just see Test player written all over him."
Antigua, May 2015
Chances, as Voges had come to learn, can be fleeting. At the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, he looked composed and confident on a pitch that was making many other Australia batsmen look like mugs against a WICB president's XI. At the other end was his fellow Western Australian Shaun Marsh, granted so many more chances down the years but finally looking the goods himself.
Voges knew that space in the Test batting order would be limited, and that he had to do something persuasive to earn his way into it. On 52 he stretched forward to Jomel Warrican but found the ball turning enough to beat his defensive push towards mid-on and thudding into his front pad. The WICB XI went up and so did the umpire's finger. Once upon a time Voges would have shrugged his shoulders and wandered off without too much thought, but now he stood there, upset at himself and the end of his innings. Not since 2006, when he did not really know what it meant, had he been this close. And yet so far?
Dominica, June 2015
Left-arm spin has always been a handy sidearm for Voges. In January 2008 in an MCG T20, he winkled out two Indian batsmen in as many balls and was granted a collector's photo of a field by the T20 captain Michael Clarke for what proved an unsuccessful hat-trick ball. There were far fewer spectators on match eve in Dominica when Voges was asked to wheel away in the spinner's net alongside Nathan Lyon.
The significance of this looked plain from the boundary's edge at training, as Fawad Ahmed plied his trade alongside the part-timers of Lehmann in the other net. But the moment of realisation and achievement - that a baggy green was actually his - arrived when Lehmann and the selector on duty Mark Waugh called Voges aside for a chat, a nod, and a pair of handshakes. In Lehmann, Voges had a coach who knew how this felt, having run the drinks in 1990 and not actually debuted until 1998. In Dominica, he had found that long-elusive chance.
"Mike Hussey and Chris Rogers, I think, have shown that guys who come in with a big domestic record and played a lot of cricket can have success at Test level," Voges says. "Though sometimes it's felt like this might not ever happen, seeing those guys do what they've done was sort of always in the back of my mind and given me hope that one day, if I played well enough, this chance would come around, and if I do get an opportunity to play and get the baggy green then I'll certainly be confident and ready to play.
"Particularly in the last couple of years my mindset towards batting has matured a fair bit, and the way I approach my game and the way I approach these tours, I may have done it differently five or ten years ago. I'm very comfortable in the way I play my game at the moment and comfortable in how I score my runs. I'm certainly still looking to get better, but the way I've gone about things has changed over the last couple of years, and I think I've become better for it."
Among the men who will take the field with Voges on Wednesday will be Haddin, who had watched him at close quarters all those years ago in North Sydney. Finally, it's time for that second look.