It was fast bowler and homespun entertainer Rodney Hogg who once said when contemplating how one-day cricket was tricked up against bowlers that they might as well put a bowling machine at each end. Nowadays, Test pitches often are so unyielding that hapless bowlers must feel they are plying their trade against batting machines, fully installed, primed and guaranteed.
So it was at the Basin Reserve on Sunday as Adam Voges completed the epic innings that set this Test match on a course that will lead inexorably to Australian victory sometime on Monday.
For two more hours, the Voges-matron clattered away, each blow resounding in this amphitheatre like a rivet gun. His bat worked as if it came with a 10,000-run warranty. All the New Zealand bowlers could do was feed it their best shots and see how it responded and try again. Full ball, cover drive, crack. Around the wicket, clip to fine leg, bang. Short ball, pull, thump. Off-spinner, bit of drift, but the computer chip already knew it; full toss, loft to leg, four. That was how the first century was registered, and the second as well.
Nerves did not exist. Shot selection was unerring. Powers of concentration came built in. The program made no distinction between the 199th run the 200th. It was worth a shake-out of the arms, a standard issue hug of non-striker Nathan Lyon, then on with the job. Bat met ball as a bolt slides into a socket, a tongue meshes with a groove. Up close, you might have heard a whirring noise.
The Voges-matron is so appliance-like that it even has a speed limit. Turned up for the sake of the innings and the game, it rattled a little, and its bearings whined, and it suddenly was not so smooth as in its non-stop and blip-less operation of the previous eight-or-so hours.
For a period, the Kiwi bowlers watched as their best efforts were dispatched to all corners, while the dispatcher, programmed to shield the non-striker, stayed put. Then it really did look and feel like centre-wicket practice against some sort of dispenser.
At short length, with three mighty sixes, the Vogesmobile completed the task, then very nearly scurried from the field, making only the merest of acknowledgements, helmet still affixed, head down to the last. Brendon McCullum led the Kiwis in offered hands, though it was a moot point whether it was to congratulate this Voges-borg or make sure he was turned off.
Of course, Adam Voges is not a machine, but a flesh-and-blood batsman and man, as conscious of mortality as a mere gadget never could be, to whom wonderful things have come late in sporting life, who is intelligent and decent but modest in personality and effects, and who must be finding all this sudden celebrity disconcerting as well as a little bit exciting, hence the seeming diffidence.
It was just that he had made Test-match batting look like a matter of flicking a switch. The brilliant deception in this gradually became apparent when the Kiwis batted again. For the third time in a row in a Wellington Test, they had had the most difficult of the batting conditions and fallen hundreds of runs behind. The previous two times, they had scrambled out with a famous win and an even more famous draw. Now they had no choice but to accept their Mission Impossible challenge again.
The pitch still was as unmarked as if just unwrapped from its cellophane. The ball didn't deviate one second of one minute of one degree at first, and when it eventually did, courtesy of reverse swing, it was infinitesimal. Sunshine and 25 degrees: it was a day for batting all day, and for bowling all day, for that matter. A bowler might get hot in the haunches, but ought not under the collar.
The key was perseverance.The New Zealanders, though well drilled, are not machines. They sensed, as humans do, that they could not merely block out two-and-a-half days. They sensed the essence of their handicap, that they might deal, luckily or capably, with 1200-odd balls, but the Australians had to get only 10 right. And they sensed they had the craftier off-spinner.
Each of the top order dug in for at least an hour, but they needed someone to stay for six, and still do. The Australians could not blast them out, but they could and did smoke them out. When playing on a weakness did not work, they played temptingly to a strength, hence two skied catches for Nathan Lyon.
For titanium-coated Kane Williamson, they drilled away outside off stump and found a chink that had not been apparent in Australia. Then, in the last over, McCullum played the slow-moving shot of a man for whom this was one hole too deep, one corner too many. He has been a mighty cricketer, but was never a machine anyway.
Concerning machines, and the no-ball call on Friday on which this whole matched turned: some say that it would be unfair for the third umpire to overrule in another such instance because the batsman might have been lured by the no-ball call into a false shot he otherwise would not have played.
But which is the greater evil, that a batsman might be robbed, or that a bowler is being robbed? The technology exists; all that needs to change are protocols and batsmen's mindsets. When no-ball is correctly called, the batting side already gets a reward in the form of an extra, as well as indemnity against dismissal. Why should it presume another in the form of a free hit?