Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
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On a wet Tuesday night in March 2017, Nathan Coulter-Nile was concerned.
Having batted in the indoor nets at Perth's Revolution Sports, preparing for a WACA first-grade two-day final with his club side Subiaco-Floreat, he wondered aloud to a team-mate about whether he should play. He was in the team as a specialist batsman having not played a professional match since an ODI against the West Indies in June 2016 due to stress fractures in his back. He had failed to reach 20 in his last five innings batting at No. 4 and he asked whether he was stealing a spot from club player.
Liam Davis, the former Western Australia and Australia A opening batsman and Subi's batting coach, intervened with a knowing nod. Struggling for motivation as an injured professional cricketer had been a path he had walked every inch. The pair came up with a plan. They would meet an hour before training on Thursday for a conversation, just the two of them, away from group.
When training started on Thursday the pair emerged from the Floreat Oval changing rooms with vigour and purpose. Coulter-Nile strapped his pads on, Davis grabbed his trusty side-arm 'wanga' and a brand new ball and the pair went to work. Coulter-Nile faced more balls that night than he had all season, maybe in his career.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) - Nathan Coulter-Nile's powerful 92
It worked a charm. Coulter-Nile walked out at 82 for 2 on the Sunday morning, with his team needing 285 to win the final and made a clinical 55. His footwork was sharp, his defence was tight, his balance was sound but he drove, cut and pulled with authority and power. That innings was an integral part in Subi winning the WACA first grade premiership.
The game was taken aback by Coulter-Nile's performance at Trent Bridge, where he made a match-winning 92 off 60 against West Indies, the highest score by a No.8 in a World Cup, 58 runs more than his previous highest ODI score. While it was shock to those looking at his career ODI (average 12.83 before this innings) and first-class figures (average 18.75), it was not a shock to anyone who had seen him play for Subi. It was exactly what they had been waiting to see.
In 2012 he walked out in a semi-final against Melville, whose attack featured two first-class bowlers, at 193 for 5 and made a run-a-ball 87 not out, sharing a 100-run stand with England's David Willey, Subi's visiting overseas player. He had already made a century that season and followed the match-winning semi-final effort with a top-scoring 68 in a losing final a week later on a green pitch at the WACA.
This isn't to compare the WACA grade competition with what Coulter-Nile faced against West Indies, with the stakes at their highest and bouncers coming down at 150kph, but in the context of a team being in trouble it is a situation that has previously brought the best out of him. However, he was quick to defer to the man who helped make it happen.
"I have to give him 100 percent of the credit," Coulter-Nile said of Davis' role. "He takes time out, doesn't take anything off me. He's not a cricket tragic so for him to come and help me like that, I really appreciate it. In all honesty I owe him everything for my batting."
Davis isn't a full-time cricket coach. He's barely a part-timer. A business and three kids don't allow much time. But he's an outstanding batting coach. He has experienced the highs and lows of professional and club cricket. He made a Sheffield Shield triple century against New South Wales and played for Australia A against South Africa before his career ended prematurely due to a badly broken finger.
He played alongside three current professional coaches. Australia coach Justin Langer, WA and Perth Scorchers assistant coach Kade Harvey, and New South Wales' batting mentor Beau Casson all played in the same grade team together at Scarborough, a Perth club that has also produced Marcus Stoinis, Marcus Harris and AJ Tye.
While Davis has not pursued the professional coaching path he's had a huge impact on Coulter-Nile. They make a great pair. Davis, a five-foot nothing wannabe fast bowler, with his side-arm and a bag of brand new balls skipping in and endlessly bouncing anyone who faces him. Coulter-Nile stands there at the other end, bat waggling like a wannabe baseballer, trying to hit every ball into the next suburb. When he connects he asks Davis sarcastically and loudly, 'how big is that?!'.
He has the ability to get Coulter-Nile to understand his power and skill. Coulter-Nile is at his best when he's balanced, holding his shape and not trying to over-hit the ball, even when they now work exclusively on white-ball batting with Coulter-Nile having stepped away from first-class cricket.
"I was working really hard on the red-ball sort of stuff, trying to get in and he just said 'scrap that, we're not playing red-ball cricket anymore and we just hit balls, I just tried to hit balls for six. That's all I've been doing for last year," Coulter-Nile said.
More than anything Davis, who is a salesman by trade, sells belief and the patter had an enormous pay-off at Trent Bridge. However, Coulter-Nile is his harshest critic and he knows his batting isn't guaranteeing his spot in this Australia side.
"No, I took 0 for 70," Coulter-Nile said. "We've got two world-class bowlers [not playing]. I'm not in the team to make runs, hopefully the top order does that so I wouldn't be surprised if I got dropped for the next game. I'm in the team to take wickets and I've had two wicketless games so we'll see how we go."
Coulter-Nile's runs saved Australia's blushes on Thursday. Whilst he says it's not his job, it can be. He's shown exactly what he is capable of.