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(BBC) — Australia recovered from an awful start to beat West Indies by 15 runs in a wonderful World Cup encounter at Trent Bridge.
A day where fortunes fluctuated throughout could have been over quickly when the ferocious West Indies pace attack reduced the defending champions to 38-4 and 79-5.
Australia were held together by the unflappable Steve Smith, who made 73 and was only dismissed by the most incredible boundary catch by Sheldon Cottrell, one that perhaps bettered the grab of England’s Ben Stokes in the opening game against South Africa.
By the time Smith was out, Nathan Coulter-Nile, batting at number eight, had already begun his power hitting in a 60-ball 92 that lifted Australia to 288 all out.
After Chris Gayle threatened to thrill in his 21, West Indies were anchored by Shai Hope’s 68.
The chase was ultimately left to captain Jason Holder, but both he and Carlos Brathwaite fell in the same over from Mitchell Starc, whose 5-46 helped restrict the Windies to 273-9.
Australia join New Zealand on two wins from two matches and move on to play India on Sunday.
West Indies, with one win and one defeat, take on South Africa on Monday.
Windies pace opens quality contest
This was a high-quality contest that more than matched the expectancy generated by the meeting of perhaps the two most exciting pace attacks in the tournament.
Its distinct phases gave a little of everything: the determination of Smith, pyrotechnics of Coulter-Nile, the wonder of Cottrell’s catch, the drama of four overturned reviews in the West Indies innings and tension of the tight finish.
But none of that seemed likely when the West Indies pace bowlers, who steamrollered Pakistan on this ground last week, were threatening to dismantle Australia.
Cottrell, Oshane Thomas and Andre Russell do not simply bang the ball into the pitch and hope for the best – they have the skill to bowl aggressive bouncers that still, for the most part, remain within one-day cricket’s rules on short bowling.
Thomas induced a tentative poke from Aaron Finch, while Cottrell had David Warner caught at point and Glenn Maxwell top-edged a hook. Both of the left-armer’s wickets were celebrated with his trademark salute.
Usman Khawaja had been hit three times by the time he backed off and was brilliantly caught by wicketkeeper Hope off Russell and, when Marcus Stoinis pulled Holder to mid-wicket, Australia were in tatters.
Unsurprisingly, Smith was booed to the crease. By the time his 103-ball innings was over, even the most ardent Smith-hater had to admire the way he kept his team afloat.
Or maybe it was not admiration. Maybe it was a realisation that a year-long ban for ball-tampering had done nothing to diminish the batsman that tortured England in the last Ashes down under and could yet do the same later this summer.
For this was the same old Smith, only in a yellow kit rather than whites. Unflustered by the short ball, able to turn any delivery through the leg side, scampering between the wickets, burning energy by constantly fidgeting with his kit.
It took something truly remarkable for Cottrell to dismiss him, the fielder making amends after slipping when trying to take a catch when Smith had only 26.
Smith’s leg-side whip was sailing over the long leg boundary when the sprinting Cottrell thrust out his left arm with the ball already hovering over the rope. Conscious that his momentum would carry him over, Cottrell threw the ball into the air and returned to the playing area to take the catch.
Even Smith paused on his way back to the pavilion to watch the replay on the big screen.
The former skipper’s resistance allowed Coulter-Nile, who was dropped at deep mid-wicket by Shimron Hetmyer on 61, to pepper the leg side with some clean striking.
His four sixes completed the recovery and, aided by 24 runs conceded in wides, Australia had just enough.
Superb Starc seals it
Gayle had already taken the plaudits of the crowd with his antics in the field, and Trent Bridge was willing him on as he threatened to outdo Coulter-Nile.
In one Starc over he overturned being given caught behind and lbw, both to incredible cheers, but Starc eventually pinned him with the full length and pace that made the left-armer so effective on the day.
In the face of Australia’s own brand of aggression, Hope’s 68 was patient and Nicholas Pooran’s 40 laced with class.
But, after Hope chipped Pat Cummins to mid-on, it was left to West Indies’ dynamic lower-order hitters to try to complete an increasingly tight chase.
Holder twice reversed being given out lbw to lever his way to a run-a-ball half-century that was supported by hitting from Russell and Brathwaite.
However, the brilliant Starc returned to have Brathwaite hole out and Holder miscue to short fine leg and the game – this great game – was up.
‘This competition is wide open’ – what they said
Australia captain Aaron Finch: “We just kept hanging in there. We were able to fight back through Alex Carey and Steve Smith getting us a bit deeper. Then for Nathan Coulter-Nile to play the way he did was exceptional.
“We’ve always felt he had the ability to do something like that and this time he had the opportunity to bat a bit longer.
“I absolutely was nervous. At 38-4 and they keep coming hard at you – we just had to keep hanging in there and to get 288 in the end was outstanding.”
West Indies skipper Jason Holder: “I thought we were well in the game, just a few irresponsible shots when we probably needed to tap it around a bit more.
“To bowl out Australia for 288, we would have taken that – I just think the batters need to take responsibility.
“We still believe we can win this competition, it’s wide open.”
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “Australia will feel that after winning the game from where they were, they can beat anybody.”
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