Nathan Coulter-Nile, who hadn’t yet played for Australia, swiped his card at the ATM slot to take some money out for dinner. His bank balance was $150 in February 2013. Across the road, stood his team-mates waiting to enter the restaurant and they were browsing their phones for IPL auction news. By the time Coulter-Nile stepped out the ATM, he heard shouts from his mates and was stunned when he was told that his bid had ratcheted up to $250,000. “What? This must be a joke … I saw it and I just couldn’t talk; I was in state of shock.” Eventually, Mumbai Indians would pick him for $450,000, and when his friends asked him to foot the dinner bill, the reality returned — he had just 150.
He had already worked as an intern in a newspaper in Perth and had initially dabbled with volleyball at Aquinas college where a volleyball coach didn’t share his dreams and he was asked to switch sports.
A reputation was being built around the youngster: pretty fast with the ball and a good hitter with the bat. Soon, though, another reputation began to develop: injury issues. Time and again, whenever Australia picked him or thought about picking, his body would give way. Sometimes the back would give way, at times the knee and the shoulder.
The pace started to drop as he changed his action and he turned into a fast-medium pacer, but it’s his batting that perhaps made the Australian selectors pick him for this World Cup. The old fast-bowling urges can still be seen to the day. Not only did he warn the West Indians to expect bumper barrage from his pacier team-mates, he also bowled quite a few himself. It didn’t always have the result he intended but he kept banging the odd delivery short.
He had almost given up the game in 2017 when he broke down with a spinal stress fracture. A long year of rehab stared at him, and he wasn’t sure he was up for it. It was lack of life-skills apart from cricket that drew him back to the game.
“I didn’t think I was up to it but I didn’t really have anything else to do. I don’t have any other skill sets, so I thought I would give it another crack,” he said.
Soon, he ran into Cameron Bancroft, who was banned for the ball-tampering scandal, and was convinced to take up yoga more seriously. An Indian teacher had swayed Bancroft into yoga, and subsequently, Bancroft started to spread the word. Coulter-Nile was one of his fresh recruits, and plunged himself into serious practice.
“I have tried to really rush into it head-on and do it three times a week,” he said. He started to do Pilates as well – and slowly the body started to respond.
In January this year, when he wasn’t selected for the ODI series against India, he called out the selectors. There were concerns about his lower back but, according to him, his scan results had not even come when they took that call. “I didn’t take the news the best, to be honest. I think it was communicated to me really poorly.”
Next month, his body threw up a new problem. In a Big Bash game, he had just finished bowling a ball, when he started to wobble and went down to the ground. It was later diagnosed as vertigo and he spent a few hours as precautionary measure at the hospital.
It’s in this context of his fierce battle with his own body that Coulter-Nile stepped out to bat in a crisis situation for Australia in the World Cup game against West Indies. Australia were wobbling at 147 for 6 but Coulter-Nile took control from the word go. As if there was no crisis in the first place. He played his shots; he handled the occasional short deliveries well and never looked flustered.
West Indies also played into his hands as they kept straying onto his legs. Eighty per cent of his runs came on the leg side. They kept straying and he kept picking them off without any fuss. With the ball, his penchant for bouncers didn’t help his team but he brought in the odd cutters to keep the batsmen honest. But if it were not for his batting, Australia would have been buried in the game. A man who has waged a long tiring battle with his own body saved Australia n a world cup game — it’s been quite a journey.