While Trent Boult hogged all the headlines for his fiery spell, where he picked seven wickets to wrap things up, the first innings certainly belonged to Henry Nicholls. The southpaw played an instrumental role in steering New Zealand from a good position to a commanding one. West Indies bowlers seemed to have no answers to his belligerence in the death overs as Nicholls scored runs at will and placed his innings with some serious astuteness.
New Zealand have now gained an unassailable lead of 2-0 with a game to go and a whitewash now looks imminent. They were completely outplayed in this encounter as Trent Boult spilt fire with the ball after Nicholls’ heroics with the bat in the middle-order.
Nicholls has had a fantastic run this year, averaging 61 in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and almost 42 in Tests, he has looked in good touch and drilling hard to cement his spot in the middle-order. An attacking batsman is always deadly, but the one with a systematic approach can turn out to be a nightmare for the bowlers. Nicholls belongs to this rare category and his innings today was just a demonstration of it.
West Indies put New Zealand to bat first in a do-or-die encounter and were in a desperate need of a win to keep the series alive. New Zealand, on the other hand, were without Kane Williamson for this crucial game along with Martin Guptill, who has been ruled out of the series due to a hamstring injury. Their batting lacked that extra bit of firepower as well as stability in the absence of these two.
This was a golden opportunity for the West Indies to pounce hard and make the most of it. Their bowlers did put pressure on New Zealand but failed to tighten the noose around them. When New Zealand lost Ross Taylor in the 33rd over, a total anywhere close 300 looked unlikely. With half the batting line-up back in the pavilion, West Indies had a chance to finish things up at the earliest, but Nicholls had other ideas.
At 186 for 5, New Zealand were placed in a very delicate situation, another wicket at this stage would have put them in all sorts of trouble and needed a partnership to keep things going. Nicholls analysed the situation to perfection and did well in spending time out in the middle, getting used to the conditions, which is a sign of a quality batsman.
Nicholls stitched a crucial 130-run stand with Todd Astle to ensure things remained in New Zealand’s grip. Nicholls built his innings smartly and fired with all cylinders just at the very right time. He cut, pulled and improvised to record his career-best ODI score.
With a cautious start, Nicholls looked in no hurry. He scored just 27 off his first 37 deliveries and did well to overturn a leg before decision. He got a start and didn’t fizzle out, which is one of the key ingredients in the making of a successful batsman. Nicholls then launched a blitzkrieg on the West Indies, scoring 56 off his next 25 deliveries. Not many would have anticipated Nicholls to get 83 after being 27 off 37 deliveries at one stage with few overs left. Nicholls not only anchored the innings but also finished things off in style.
With the help of seven boundaries and two sixes, Nicholls scored an unbeaten 83 and accounted for a match-winning stand with Astle. New Zealand crossed the 300-run mark with ease and posted a daunting target for the West Indies in a decider, which was always going to be a challenge against the likes of Boult and Co.
“He’s a guy you want coming out in the middle order and finish the innings. He hits the ball in funky areas and I’m confident in saying some teams don’t realise he does that. He showed his class out there,” Boult was quoted by nzherald.co.nz.
New Zealand batting have superstars in Guptill, Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham. It’s not easy to sculpt a regular spot in the line-up when the race is so tough and many waiting for their chances. But Nicholls has looked promising and solid so far. Yes, there is always room for improvement and in Nicholls’ case, there certainly is.
Despite making his ODI debut two years back, Nicholls has only managed to feature in 16 ODIs for New Zealand so far, if he pulls up on consistency, there is no reason why he can’t be a regular in the side. Also, Nicholls has played an equal number of Tests and has been in the scheme of things for New Zealand of late. But one wouldn’t be wrong in saying, that he has started finding the right rhythm in the middle-order and given a longer run, he wouldn’t disappoint.