Henry Nicholls was impressive at Dubai…..
After a closely fought first Test at Abu Dhabi, New Zealand took a pounding in the second Test at Dubai, losing the match by an innings and 16 runs. With the series level, all eyes will once again be on Abu Dhabi, where the decider will be played from December 3. It was an appalling batting display from New Zealand at Dubai, especially in the first innings where they were bundled out for just 90 after being 50 for no loss at one stage. They put on a much better show in the second innings, but could not make Pakistan bat again.
Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson have carried New Zealand’s innings more often than not over many years. They have played many memorable and crucial innings in the past, under all conditions. The duo are already established cricketers in all formats, but they cannot be bulk of the scoring every time. Hence, it is nice to see someone like Henry Nicholls slowly, but steadily make a mark in the New Zealand middle-order.
New Zealand selector Gavin Larsen and former Black Caps coach Mike Hesson have high regards for Nicholls are willing to be patient with him by giving him a longer rope. Having made his ODI debut late in 2015, Nicholls scored his maiden fifty only in his fifth innings, but made an instant impact in Tests, scoring 59 against Australia at Wellington. But he has always been in and out of the Test and ODI side. But given his current run in the Tests, he has certainly warranted a longer run.
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Nicholls is someone who puts a price on his wicket and will rarely play an erratic shot. He is someone who can change gears quickly and at the same time, play some really long innings, depending on the situation. In the two Tests against Pakistan so far, he has always looked to spend time at the crease, before he plays his shots. With quality bowlers like Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali and Yasir Shah in the Pakistan bowling attack, that sort of approach is sensible too. However, the heat and humidity of UAE can get to anyone and as a result, it might force the batsman to do something rash.
In the first innings at Abu Dhabi, Nicholls scored a patient 78-ball 28 and in the second innings, he managed to make 55 off 171. he had hit just 7 fours, both innings combined, which means that he got most of his runs running between the wickets. He proved that he is extremely fit and did not get bogged down by the conditions. In fact, his compact technique helped him fend away a few deliveries from the spinners in both the matches. After being dismissed for a duck in the first innings at Dubai, New Zealand not just had to play out time, but they also had to erase the deficit and take a significant lead to make a match out of it. Nicholls once again dug deep and batted beautifully to delay an early Pakistan win. He was not afraid to step down the track and did not play a poor stroke throughout his 187-ball innings. He backed his technique especially against the spinners and looked at ease throughout his stay.
In case Taylor and Williamson both fail, which is quite rare, New Zealand will be pleased to know that Nicholls is someone who can be relied on to get some runs.
The 2014-15 season was indeed a breakthrough season for Nicholls, who did quite well for Canterbury in the First-Class and the 50-over circuits. His 18 innings in the Plunket Shield yielded him 778 runs at 43.22, while in the Ford trophy, he struck 454 runs at 75.66 with one century and 3 fifties. Still only 24 when he made his international debut, a couple of months later, he was entrusted to fill the shoes of none other than Brendon McCullum, who made the No. 5 position his own. New Zealand were by then used to see a swashbuckling McCullum tearing it to all parts of the ground, but now have to settle for Nicholls, who is more of a classical Test match player. New Zealand would not mind that as long as he keeps working hard and score runs.
Nicholls’ big moment in Tests came when he scored his maiden century against South Africa at Wellington in March 2017 against some quality pace attack featuring Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. With the monkey off his back, the New Zealand management would have had their decision to persist with Nicholls vindicated and would have been over the moon after he scored a brilliant 145 not out against England in March this year.
He has not been at his best in the ODI format, managing 5 single-digit scores in his last 10 innings and has slammed just a couple of the fifties in them. He has shown some glimpses of his hitting in a few matches, the consistency just doesn’t seem to be there in the ODIs. In the Tests, however, he has been making steady progress – one that would please the team.
Before the UAE tour, Nicholls had played just one Test in Asia. He has played most of his matches in the comfort of home conditions and as a result, has never really had a chance to play in some of the challenging parts of the world. Taylor and Williamson have close to 12,000 Test runs between them and are proven match-winners. Nicholls has just crossed the 1,000-run barrier in Tests and many more milestones await him in the future. His addition in the New Zealand middle-order certainly makes them stronger.