New Delhi: At Nottingham on Thursday, Australia and West Indies played out of the finest games of this World Cup; a game that swung wildly in favour of one team and then another. Both West Indies and Australia dominated sections of play, making the match a kind of a territorial contest, one that was finally won by the Aussies. After a horror start, a resilient fight back and final flourish, Australia edged out West Indies by 15 runs. Their batting, that suffered an initial collapse that saw them reduced to 38/4, was guided by a determined Steve Smith and Nathan Coulter-Nile, who perhaps played the innings of his life.
With the ball, Mitchell Starc stood out with a memorable five-wicket haul that crippled the West Indian chase the moment it had gathered steam.
Here are key talking points from the game:
A testament to Aussie grit
Australia got off to the worst start imaginable. Put to bat after losing the toss, they seem heckled by the furious barrage of the West Indian pace attack. The Windies stuck with the strategy that worked against Pakistan: Bowl fast, bowl short and unsettle the batter. Australian captain Aaron Finch fell to good old fashioned seam bowling in the second over itself; good length, in the corridor, tempting the outside edge of the bat and getting a nick onto the wicketkeeper.
David Warner departed soon, the extra bounce upsetting his drive, caught out at backward point. Next in line was Usman Khawaja, who was dismissed after a superb diving effort from Shai Hope that saw the Australian caught behind. And Glenn Maxwell departed on a duck when he skied a bouncer and was caught. The scoreboard read: Australia - 38/4.
Steve Smith, back from his one-year ban after the ball tampering saga, held the fort on one side, while he got some support from Marcus Stoinis and Alex Carey. But it was really the partnership Smith built with Nathan Coulter-Nile that helped Australia claw their way back from the wilderness. The initial catastrophe could have triggered a full scale collapse and Australia could have walked back with under 200 runs on the board. Remember, they were 79/5 at one point. But Smith and Coulter-Nile laboured on and their stubborn and resilient stand made even 300 seem within reach. It was a testament to Australian grit; to never give up until the last ball is bowled. Eventually Smith departed at 73 and Coulter-Nile fell at 92, the highest World Cup score by a number 8 batter, and Australia fell short of 300, but 288 was a respectable, fighting total. The Aussie bowlers had something to play with. In the second innings too, Australia clung on to the game like a leech as it tilted in favour of either side. At one point, West Indies seemed to be in command, but Mitchell Stark's five-wicket haul, the first this World Cup, again brought Australia back from the brink and eventually handed them a memorable 15-run win.
With two wins from two games in the bag and the fighting performance against West Indies, Australia have also put in their claim this World Cup. They have had a year of turmoil; they lost their two best batters, Warner and Smith, for over a year. But they are starting to look more like Australia does in a World Cup. And that is bad news for other teams.
A rollercoaster ODI
While in general parlance it's easy to state that One Day cricket is becoming similar to its T20 cousin. Run records are being broken, boundaries are getting shorter, allrounders are in fashion. But an ODI still retains its basic nature. Over the course of 50 overs, you could lose, fight back, stabilise and come out on top eventually. It gives you the space for a complete restructuring. It gives you the time to claim back lost ground.
Friday's game between Australia and West Indies, probably, the finest game in this World Cup, stood true to the essence of an ODI. The game swung back and forth like pendulum, favouring either side at different points in time. When West Indies won the toss and put Australia to bat, they started out on top, wrecking the Australian top and upper-middle order. But stands by Smith and Carey and later Smith and Coulter-Nile not only brought Australia back into the game, but also put them in advantage going into bowl.
Stark and Pat Cummins then turned the pressure on under which West Indian batters slowly crumbled. The Windies found themselves coming back into the game at multiple points in the second innings; dismissals were periodic, but separated by short but crucial partnerships. First Shai Hope and Nicholas Pooran pulled it back and then Shemron Hetmyer and captain Jason Holder put their side in control. Things, however, then went on a downward spiral after Stark struck again and got Andre Russell and Carlos Brathwaite who looked in destructive mood. Starc's stunning spell toward the latter half of the chase gobbled up the West Indian lower-middle order and the tail and brought Australia back on the steering wheel.
The game at Nottingham served as a reminder of an ODIs potential to tilt, shift, take sides and then tip again in another's favour.
The turning point
The first cause of concern for the West Indies must be the reversal in the first innings. After reducing Australia to79/5, they allowed Smith, Carey and Coulter-Nile to pull back, little by little. The consistency and ferocity with which the Windies' pace attack started was missing after the 20-over mark. It led to Australia piling up 288, a fighting total by any standards.
But West Indies' failings with the bat were more disappointing. Hope (68 off 105), Pooran (40 off 36) and Holder (51 off 57) put them ahead in the game. When Andre Russell came into the picture in the 36th over after Hope departed, he launched into an offensive in his trademark style. With Holder on the other side, Russell hit Adam Zampa for a six and a four. His blistering act pumped up the Windies; victory wasn't far. Russell just had to focus his aggression, restrain his worst instincts and form up a stand with his captain. That was all that was needed. There was no hurry. But Russell's reflexes got the better of him. He tried to hoick Starc over midwicket, got a leading edge and was caught superbly by Maxwell. This became the turning point of the game. At this point, West Indies were 216/5, with Holder playing a measured innings one end and Russell threatening to finish things early. If only the two had found a middle ground, if only Russell had not been s callous with his wicket, the story of the story of the game could have been different. Russell's dismissal triggered a cascading effect and Starc cleaned up the remaining batters.
West Indies are jam-packed with big hitters and allrounders, excellent players of the 20-over format.
The question for them often posed is that can they extend their 20-over cameos and spurts to suit the 50-over format. It was what they needed to do against Australia. A slight adjustment in approach towards the second half of the chase could have handed them their second win in two games.
West Indies' have been labelled the dark horses this World Cup, but that moniker hardly means anything. The team has the talent to go far in the tournament. They have enough batting firepower to flatten any bowling attack, enough sting in their pace attack to send any top order ducking for cover. But they also need to re-purpose all that for the long game. If they can make that adjustment, there are few teams who could be more devastating.
Umpires put in a bad shift
West Indies had four out decisions overturned through successful DRS challenges. Two of them were for Chris Gayle and two for Holder. The umpires, Chris Gaffaney and Ruchira Palliyaguruge, aside from being wrong on four occasions also missed a massive no-ball from Stark to Gayle on the ball preceding the West Indian opener's dismissal. Had it been called a no-ball, the ball that got Gayle out would have been a free hit.
"I don't know if I'll be fined for saying it but I just think that the umpiring was a bit frustrating," Carlos Brathwaite said after the game, expressing his disappointment with the umpiring. "Even when we were bowling we thought a few balls close to head height were called wides. And obviously three decisions in one over as far as I can remember being dodgy, it was frustrating and sent ripples through the dressing room."
West Indian legend Michael Holding, who was in the commentary box during errors, was furious too, calling the umpiring in the game "atrocious".
Starc the difference.
Mitchelll Starc became the first bowler with a fifer this World Cup after his excellent display against the West Indies. In blistering spells, falling either side of West Indies' chase, Starc removed Gayle, Holder, Russell, Brathwaite and Sheldon Cottrell, crippling the Windies' batting lineup from top to bottom. Starc now has six 5-wicket hauls in just 77 ODIs. His pace, consistency and quality is unrivaled today and very few would bet against him finishing up as the World Cup's top wicket