Andrew Alderson: Black Caps batsman Henry Nicholls’ season of form and fortune continues

OPINION

If the opportunity presents to go to the casino with Henry Nicholls at the moment, snare it.

The Cantabrian could stare down the roulette wheel, choose red or black, and beat the house.

His run of form and fortune this test summer has continued at his Christchurch home ground.

Nicholls contributed 89 not out as part of an unbeaten 215-run stand with captain Kane Williamson that brought New Zealand back into the second test against Pakistan from 71-3 on the second day. The last time a fourth-wicket partnership began earlier for the Black Caps was on 46 during 2019’s ill-fated return to Melbourne.

In a sport which can be fickle, Nicholls’ ability to seize on opportunities generated by opposition error was marked.

The second day of the second test brought two early examples where the left-hander basked in good luck. He survived a caught behind on three after Shaheen Afridi was shown to have no-balled, then inside-edged a ball to the fine leg boundary on seven, coming within centimetres of skittling his castle when Naseem Shah forced him back to defend.

He was also peppered by short-pitched deliveries with backward square leg, deep square leg and long leg lying in wait for a miscued hook. Later, on 86, wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan spilt the No5 in the first over from the second new ball, again off Shaheen.

Yet Nicholls, like all top batsmen, has the ability to compartmentalise such anxious moments and knuckle down to advance the cause.

The same occurred earlier in the test summer. He had not passed 50 in 12 completed test innings when he came out to bat in a Williamson-less New Zealand side against the West Indies in Wellington.

He skied a hook shot that fell to unprotected turf on two, was dropped in close on 21, saw another top-edged hook clear a fielder on 29 and offered two regulation chances to first slip Darren Bravo on 47.

Determination and concentration proceeded to pay dividends and he earned selection breathing space with his highest test score of 174 in a man-of-the-match performance.

Nicholls again ventured into the hooking trap in the first innings of the first test against Pakistan at Mt Maunganui when Naseem dropped short to him on six. Mohammad Abbas coughed up the chance diving in front of him at long leg. Nicholls went on to muster 56, never flinching in his capacity to push on.

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