“Making his debut in the same series that McCullum walked away, Nicholls impressed one and all with a fluent half-century in his second innings but soon, as is the norm and as most Test players who get off to a rollicking start face, the runs dried up and an average of just 24.23 after nine games meant that his place in the side was being questioned”.
There was a sense of hurried calmness about Kiwi batsman Henry Nicholls’ batting in the rain-affected Test match at Eden Park. Every time the player seemed to get in groove, the forces of nature poured down to stall his progression and he remained stranded on 24, 49 and 52 on the first three days of the game. But his resilience and his eagerness to break the shackles and make the spot previously occupied by Brendon McCullum his own was on full display and eventually, the clouds did part to give way to a batting display that was almost Kane Williamson-esque at its core.
Making his debut in the same series that McCullum walked away, Nicholls impressed one and all with a fluent half-century in his second innings but soon, as is the norm and as most Test players who get off to a rollicking start face, the runs dried up and an average of just 24.23 after nine games meant that his place in the side was being questioned.
But maybe it was the lack of many backup options in the domestic circuit or the promise that he showed that forced the New Zealand selectors to keep persisting with him. Soon enough, he did put up his hand and made his presence felt and since January last year has been a solid bat at number five – averaging 58 with two hundreds, including a memorable knock of 98 against Bangladesh at home and a 118 in the loss against South Africa in Wellington.
His second hundred – his highest First-Class score of 145 – began on the back of an elegant century from Kane Williamson and repeated rain intervals. It was so agonising that Nicholls himself would have wanted to throw in the towel rather than come out to bat for just seventeen deliveries on Day 3. But on the day it finally stayed away, the Cantabrian showed glimpses of his skill, his temperament and his finesse as a batsman.
His straight drive, when he was batting on 71 was proof of just that. He leaned in towards a Craig Overton ball and nudged it away for a boundary with ease. When he was on 94, he hit a Stuart Broad delivery back at the bowler, which was picked up rather ferociously and aimed back at the batsman. This action, not only highlighted England’s desperation after they were shot out for just 58 but also the admission of their helplessness at Nicholl’s stern rigidity and patience.
He scored his fifty in 149 deliveries and what was noteworthy was his patience outside the off-stump. He left almost 35% of the balls that were bowled to him in that area – a move that vastly annoyed the English bowlers, who were forced to bowl a tighter line to him, but which too was manoeuvred away to the leg-side. He was confident in his pull shots and his cuts and drives indicated the presence of a player who was on a mission.
88 of his 145 runs came square on both sides of the wicket and he finally gave the spectators something to cheer about by bringing up his hundred with a cut off Moeen Ali towards point. By the time his innings ended, Nicholls was well set in the record-books, gaining a place in the top ten run-scorers from New Zealand at number 5.
He averages 46 at the position in 14 Tests and leaves behind stalwarts like Brendon McCullum, who averaged 43.88 in 28 Tests at 5, Craig McMillan (averaged 39.79) and Nathan Astle (with an average of 37.86). From his country, he is just behind Marin Donnelly, Bert Sutcliffe and Jesse Ryder and even though it will be unfair to compare him and push him ahead so soon, Nicholls in many ways has shown the swag and the mental stamina to go forth and cement his own in a team that is on the lookout for newer superstars.