Monday 15 February 2016

If Voges beat The Don

Imagine this: New Zealand v Australia, Hagley Oval, beginning in a few days' time... New Zealand bat first and make 250 on a drying pitch. Australia get the best of the conditions, Warner, Burns, Smith and Kawaja fire, and they pile up 550 before Smith declares as the third wicket falls. New Zealand bat again, Guptill, Kane and B-Mac fire back, and New Zealand get ahead by 150. Australia lose early wickets, but Adam Voges steadies the ship and finishes on 33 not out as Australia flop gratefully over the line. With no Test cricket scheduled for six months and his 37th birthday looming, Voges decides that life can't get any better and announces his international retirement. His batting average, after twenty innings, is, now and forever, 100.00.

Twenty innings is a significant figure in Test stats - there's always that little bracket just under the all-time averages (min. 20 innings). After twenty innings, Adam Voges would have surpassed the Don's legendary mark, and although he and everyone else knows that Bradman exceeds him by almost every measure except this one, this is the one the counts, the one that cricket has clung to ever since Bradman was bowled for a duck by Eric Hollies at the Oval in 1948.

99.94 is the best-known stat in cricket, the only stat that the non-cricket fan may hazily recall. To cricketers, it does not need to be explained or contextualised. You don't need to be told what it means or who it belongs to. It stands as the landmark number in the sport.

It's widely known, too, that 99.94 makes Bradman not just the best cricketer of all time, but the best sportsman. Statistically, no-one else in any sport has dominated as Bradman did. 99.94 made him almost 40 per cent better than anyone else who has ever played cricket, a margin that Messi, Nicklaus, Jordan etc. cannot approach in their disciplines.

Minus the famous four runs that he couldn't quite score at the Oval, its slight imperfection, I think, makes 99.94 even more meaningful too: the Don was, like the rest of us, human. "I wonder if you see the ball very clearly..." as Arlott's description of Bradman's final moments at the crease runs. "...Under those circumstances, I wonder if you see the ball at all..."

Adam Voges, an excellent professional and, by all accounts, a very nice man, is, as he'd admit, no-one's idea of the second best batsman of all-time, let alone the best. There are other measures of a player that stretch beyond average, and the Don fulfils them in a way that he and no-one else can.

But there's not time to explain all of that to cricket's casual fans, or to other researchers into greatness in athletes. For them, for everyone, given the scenario above, Bradman would be second on the list that counts.

The thought is an odd one, precisely because the chances of it happening have always been so slim. The nearest equivalent is probably Matthew Hayden's brief seizure of Lara's top-score record with his 380 against Zimbabwe. With all due respect to a marathon knock, it wasn't an innings worthy of the top of the shop.

Voges felt the tremor too: "[It] doesn't sit all that comfortably with me to be honest," he said after the Wellington Test, during which he'd spent 18 hours with an average above the Don's. "I'm probably happy that I'm out now and it's gone back under.... It was never going to stay there. It won't stay there."

For cricket, 99.94 somehow needs to stand. If it went, like the ravens leaving the Tower, something would fall. Enjoy your form, Adam, and play on old son...


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's odd that Adam Voges should be enjoying this September Song with test cricket.

He always seemed flaky as a WA player, but it seems to have come together in the past couple of years domestically and now at test level. He's much more impressive batting live than he ever looks on TV.

Frehley75 said...

With better alternatives he probably wouldn't have played at Trent Bridge last year - that second innings half century did more than take the game into a third day.

The Old Batsman said...

Yeah, I remember tweeting that I thought he'd be dropped. shows what i know...

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