Nottingham: The dream has always been that they will turn out in the same Australian team. That on one special day, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins and Josh Hazlewood would together appear on the same team sheet. Somewhere, somehow. The Fab Four, we dubbed it. The most powerful quartet assembled since the West Indies’ pomp, we insisted.
But for those in the know, a Fab Four could have been a Famous Five. The best judges in the country always had Nathan Coulter-Nile in the same conversation, believing he was equally dangerous.
To those removed from the nitty-gritty of state cricket, there was a curiosity how Coulter-Nile kept ending up in national squads, his first such adventure in 2013 during the Champions Trophy. How could a bloke who barely plays be one of the chosen few? The conspiracy theories usually ran that it must be because he is from Western Australia.
This reached a venomous level when he was selected in the Test squad in 2015 with little first-class cricket behind him. Parochial nonsense aside and ignored, he was selected because of an unfaltering belief that he had the potential to be a world-beater – a graduate of the Lillee Academy, a sought-after IPL talent with powerful boosters such as Mike Hussey.
It never happened. After a couple of spinal fractures, a dislocated shoulder and more hamstring issues than you can accurately tally, Coulter-Nile’s 30th birthday came and went. He found himself in India again, bowling gorgeously in the 2017 ODI series. But sure enough, his back gave up on him again. A suggested 12-month layoff left him questioning whether he could continue. But he did. He took leave from red-ball cricket to throw everything at the shorter forms. This World Cup was circled on the calendar. Maybe he could make it. Maybe his body would allow it. It did.
To understand how Coulter-Nile performed with the bat for his man-of-the-match 92 against the West Indies on Thursday it is vital to appreciate this nagging unfulfillment. Right now, on the march to his 32nd birthday, there is every chance that this will be the most important six weeks of his career. After watching so many of his peers achieve things while he was on the rehab table, he wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to make a difference.
Walking into an inevitable barrage of short bowling at 147/6 with the West Indies sensing they were a wicket away from a euphoric kill, the big right-hander immediately struck the ball hard. In the best traditions of bowlers who bat, he continued to do so. Steve Smith could accumulate, Coulter-Nile would deal with the run rate.
Two hours later, when holing out with the score advanced to 284/9, he had been responsible for 67 per cent of the runs made while he was on the field. All that disappointment, all those days questioning whether it would ever come. Now he was dominating – attacking the short boundary like a pro, hitting down the ground like a number six or better. Much as it was for Cummins in his extended periods away, he left as a bowler and returned an all-rounder.
By the end of his 60-ball stay, holing out with a century on the horizon having steered Australia to safe waters, Coulter-Nile had his highest professional score, the second best for any number eight in an ODI, and the highest in that position for a World Cup. As he walked off, the Nottingham crowd gave him a standing ovation.
“Luck went my way,” he said in classic clichéd fashion when talking to the television broadcaster after Australia’s win. “A couple fell short and dropped. I inside-edged a few but that’s just the way cricket is.” More instructively, he spoke in self-deprecating fashion about his bowling. Truth told, this wasn’t his best day with the ball, but he deserved a lot better than conceding four boundaries in the game’s final over.
It doesn’t matter. Not today. What does is that the Coulter-Nile story has had a happy chapter. And the chance to add more. England, the hosts and favourites, have depth and know how to use it. Now, through Coulter-Nile, England’s old enemy might just have unearthed the same at the best possible time.