Adam Collins talks to Adam Voges about the painful end of his Test career and his hopes for Middlesex this season
As the song goes, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. No matter when or how or why. So when Adam Voges took a call from Australia’s chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns in December last year, he knew what was coming. “It’s a tough call for anyone to receive,” he tells The Cricket Paper. “And the message was certainly made clear: I wouldn’t be considered again.”
Five Tests earlier the West Australian was riding high, sporting an average of 95.50 after 15 caps; the in-form player in the then-top ranked side in the world. Then, it was gone. “You’re playing Test cricket one minute and it finishes, and that’s it,” Voges says matter-of-factly. “But I couldn’t be shit*y, I only had myself to blame. My overall numbers stack up well, but I gave them every reason.”
The rapid decline from world-beater to dumped-beau started in Sri Lanka, Voges’ own form mirroring Australia’s broader debacle. “I thought I was really well prepared,” he recalls.
The plan was to sweep and dance, but after falling that way twice in the tour game, he did neither in the Tests, never passing 50 and averaging 19.
Voges knew coming into the side at age 35 he was “only ever a couple of bad Tests” away from the knife. So the pressure was on for the first fixture of the home summer against South Africa in Perth. He had to deliver, doubly so when Dale Steyn went down injured. But returning a catch on 27, it was the last time he looked set and sound at international level.
Voges nicked unplayable deliveries second time around in Perth then first up in the Hobart massacre. By the time he helplessly fended into the gully as Australia collapsed again in the second dig he was out of luck and out of time. His slow trudge from the field reflected that. “That shot showed I wasn’t as clear in my thinking as you need to be. I was exposed in that moment and it ended up being the end of my career,” he acknowledges.
Returning to the Sheffield Shield knowing only massive runs could save him, Voges copped a whack to the head – the second time he had been concussed within a year. His omission from the Test side would, then at least, be forced. Then, when fit again, came the Dear John call.
“Top level sport is cut-throat,” he says. “I weighed heavily on my family and Justin Langer who had experience in that situation. They were great. And there was that kind of emotional and mental support available to me from WA and I was able to use those resources.”
But he still had a job to do as captain of his state and the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash. For the latter, he skippered the side to yet another title. But, at age 37, he decided at season’s end to retire his 15-year Shield career. That decision made, he’s earned the chance to savour his most improbable rise.
“I’ve had time to sit back and reflect on what has happened,” he says. “And I can look back fondly on what has been an incredible five years.”
He has his five Test centuries close to hand. “That’s part of any cricketer’s make up, going back and reflecting on good times,” he says. “So I’ve got all of my hundreds on a hard-drive and I’m able to sit down and watch. It is nice to be able to do that.”
The first of those, a legitimately match-winning unbeaten 130 on debut is the one he’ll think of most. It also set a trend in motion, Voges’ average concluding on 61.87, the second highest after Bradman. He was never comfortable with those playful comparisons, but in retirement is relaxed his name will flash up alongside The Don’s for the rest of his life. “It sits where it sits,” he says. “But the way Steve Smith is batting at the moment, there’s every chance he will, hopefully, finish above me.”
Voges has kept a respectful distance to Smith and co since leaving the side. But for him there’s nothing bittersweet about seeing them do well in India. “I’ve become a fan again,” he says. “The way they went about their cricket in India was excellent. They are all good friends and good people I’ll stay in touch with long after cricket has finished.”
His journey of acceptance complete, Voges returns to Middlesex ready for a full campaign, his first since arriving at Lord’s in 2015. He hasn’t signed on to punch the card, insisting he’s fresh and excited. “Middlesex have been brilliant to me and the way they finished off last year was magnificent,” he says.
“I’ve always been able to have bits and pieces without being able to fully commit. Now I actually can. So I want to give back to the club.”
Apart from serving as senior pro, Voges sees his role as mentoring talent, with greater time to invest in that with James Franklin appointed full-time captain.
“There was a bit of relief when (managing director of cricket) Angus Fraser told me that I wasn’t going to do the job,” he says. “Not that I would have knocked it back. But I think this is perfect for me.”
Of particular interest to Voges is preparing Sam Robson and Nick Gubbins for higher honours if either can penetrate the England squad.
“It is such a huge summer the England team has got, particularly in the back end,” he says. “If Gubbo finds the form that he played with last year, and Robbo has had a taste of it and is a fine player, opportunities will come.”
As for November’s Ashes, few are better placed than Voges to make a prediction.
“I think if Australia have all four of their fast bowlers up and fit – Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Pattinson – they will go in favourites.”
What about when it is finally over for him? “I’ve been thinking about that for the last ten years I reckon,” he laughs, noting he is “dipping his toe” into coaching with the Scorchers next year, alongside playing commitments. “I’d love to stay in the game.”
If he can, the game will certainly be better for it.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, April 14 2017
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