NOTTINGHAM // If anyone had been in any doubt that Australia are back, then it is time to take note.
Mitchell Starc took five wickets, and – remarkably – Nathan Coulter-Nile played a winning hand with the bat, as Australia beat a dangerous West Indies at Trent Bridge.
It was the latest evidence that the dark days of much of the past year are a thing of the past. Sure, Australia had been on a 10-match winning run to this point. But none of those matches had carried with them quite the weight of this one.
A first real test at the World Cup, against a side full of explosive ability with both bat and ball. A torrid start. A nervy defence. And, at the end of it all, a 15-run win. Can they cope with pressure? Tick that box.
This game featured some of the biggest batting stars of world cricket, but each only really played a bit part role.
A Universe Boss in Chris Gayle. The most brutal hitter in the game in Andre Russell. A dastardly duo shooting for retribution in Steve Smith and David Warner. All featured, but none was the story.
Instead, it was Coulter-Nile. For his batting. He made 92 from 60 balls, and Australia’s innings of 288 was propped up by him. Nobody saw that coming.
To say the 31-year-old fast-bowler was an unlikely hero with the willow understates the point dramatically. Previous to this innings, he had a top-score in one-day internationals of 34, and an average of 12.84.
It vastly superseded his best in any form of one-day cricket, and only once before – Chris Woakes against Sri Lanka in 2016 – had a No 8 scored more in an ODI innings.
While he was at the wicket, he managed to score 67 per cent of the runs his team put on in that time. Some feat, given that Smith was at the other end for most of it.
Smith himself made a vital 73 off 103, which helped repair the damage after the West Indies pace aces of Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas and Russell had reduced the defending champions to 38-4, then 79-5. Between him and Coulter-Nile, Australia had something to bowl at.
As well as a game of some high-quality cricket, this was also one of odd quirks. Both innings started with five wides. Oshane Thomas sent the first ball of the match fizzing David Warner’s pads and onto the boundary – an instance repeated later by Starc to Gayle.
Gayle’s stay was only relatively brief, but he still managed to be given out three times in the space of making 21. Chris Gaffaney, the umpire, appeared to be gunning for him.
First, he was adjudged caught behind on five off Starc. Gayle reviewed immediately, and was reprieved. The noise that had occurred had not, in fact, come from the edge of Gayle’s bat. Rather, the ball had clipped the edge of his off stump, with such subtlety that the Zing bails did not even flicker.
A couple of balls later he was adjudged LBW. Again he reviewed. Again he was reprieved, with the ball-tracker suggesting it was missing leg.
It was third time lucky for Australia – and Gaffaney – when another Starc LBW was this time upheld after Gayle had referred the decision.
Ruchira Palliyaguruge, the umpire at the other end, warmed to Gaffaney’s game. He later gave Jason Holder out LBW twice, while sweeping spinners. Neither of those stood up to a TV review, either.
For some while after, the fact Holder had been spared looked crucial. He knitted together the West Indies chase, sharing in solid stands with Shai Hope, who top scored with 68, Russell and Carlos Brathwaite.
But when the captain went for 51, it all but spelled the end for the Caribbean side. He and Brathwaite both went with the score on 252, with 37 required to win.
Once they went, West Indies were unable to get close enough, as Starc helped himself to 5- 46.