A cricketer is under immense pressure in his comeback series, there is pressure to perform, the pressure to make an impact, the pressure to cement his spot in the side. He is fighting for his survival and there is a battle within the battle. Nathan Coulter-Nile last played for Australia in June 2016 in an ODI against West Indies, but mistimed injuries have often kept him on the sidelines.
Coulter-Nile looked impressive in this year’s edition of the Indian Premier League. The Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowler scalped 15 wickets in 8 outings this season, which helped his selection for this tour. Coulter-Nile hasn’t played any cricket since the conclusion of IPL. In fact, his only game before this ODI was the Tour Match prior to the start of the series. But never looked short of confidence or momentum in Chepauk.
Australia’s strike bowler Mitchell Starc was rested for this assignment keeping in mind the upcoming Ashes while Josh Hazlewood suffered an injury in Bangladesh and has been recovering. The onus of leading the pace attack was no Pat Cummins and Coulter-Nile
On Sunday, when Virat Kohli got it right at the toss and opted to field first, not many were aware of the storm that was about to strike Chepauk. Since January 2013, India and Australia matches have witnessed some high-scoring games. Openers from both the sides have played a significant role and scored runs in heap and this series was expected to be no different.
Pat Cummins and Coulter-Nile shared the new ball while Rohit Sharma had Ajinkya Rahane at the other end to open the Indian innings. An early wicket is no less than gold in any format and the lanky bowler ensured he not only produced one but three.
Rahane looked cautious having played 14 deliveries for 5 when Coulter-Nile tempted him with a back of a length away-swinging delivery. Rahane went for a square drive, but only managed a thick outside edge. Australia drew the first blood and Coulter-Nile was all pumped by scalping a wicket in his only second over.
In came India’s most consistent batsman – Virat Kohli. The Indian skipper hardly has any weaknesses that can be exploited in shorter formats, he has mastered white ball cricket. But Kohli has often looked to chase full deliveries outside off while he is new to the crease and yet to get his eyes in.
Coulter-Nile greeted Kohli with short of a good length delivery outside off, to which, Kohli didn’t reply. The second delivery was full and a bit closer to the off-stump, Kohli went for it but no connection whatsoever as the ball moved away. The third and the final delivery of the over was a short one.
Pat Cummins maintained the pressure by bowling a maiden over next. Coulter-Nile charged in once again and lured Kohli into a drive with a full away swinging delivery. There was a lot of width for Kohli to free his hands, but he got a thick outside edge towards point. Glenn Maxwell’s incredible athleticism ended Kohli’s run for a duck, but Coulter-Nile bowled to a plan and executed it well. This was a huge blow for India as Kohli has been the spine of the batting line-up and his early fall is no less than a boon for the opposition.
Australia were in total command at 11 for 2, but Coulter-Nile was not done yet. Manish Pandey walked in at four and was tested with a short stuff right away. Next delivery – Nile went full and wide again, this one was fuller and swung away. Pandey got his bat down and edged the ball to provide Nile his third wicket.
At 11 for 3, India were in hot water and Australia in total command. Nile was getting some movement with the new ball and he did well to make the utmost use of it by pitching the ball in right areas. He got rid of India’s top-order single-handedly and produced a fine spell. He was equally backed by Cummins and skipper Steve Smith, who set attacking fields and looked for wickets.
Nile finished his first spell with figures of 5-0-12-3 and set the tone. But Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni fought back and pulled things back for India. Although Australia ended on the losing side, they have a lot of positives to take from this encounter. Nile has shown a way to expose India’s top-order and marked his comeback on a high.
The selectors have shown faith in his abilities and Nile has justified it with an impressive run in the series opener. With four games to go, one can expect Australia to put up a fight and it will be interesting to see if Nile can weave magic in the games to come.