Nicholls’ presence in the middle order is reassuring for the Kiwis

The New Zealand cricket team is benefitting from the patience and time invested in their latest batting sensation Henry Nicholls. With an effervescent style and stroke-play, Nicholls has established himself as a pragmatic middle-order batsman for the Kiwis in the past two years.

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Hailing from the city of Christchurch, Nicholls has become the answer to New Zealand’s middle-order woes lately. The Kiwis' hunt for a reliable batsman in the middle-order since the retirement of Brendon McCullum has finally come to an end as a result. Following successful outings domestically, Nicholls was given an opportunity to play for the national side. However, unlike his domestic performances, Nicholls' first taste of international cricket wasn’t as memorable since it took him six innings to score his first ODI fifty.

During his initial days, the 27-year-old was recognised as a limited overs batsman with a willingness to whack the ball every time he was at the crease. This became more evident in 2016, when he could only manage 315 runs in nine Tests with a mere average of 24 that stemmed mainly from his carefree approach in the middle.

However, he worked hard to improve on this facet of his game and learned how to play for time against some of the world's deadliest bowlers. Skipper Kane Williamson placed his utmost trust in Nicholl’s ability, citing glimpses of his short innings at the crease as enough proof for him to rely on.

The past year, in fact, has been a complete turnaround for the left-hander, who's enjoyed a breakout season with three spectacular centuries in Tests. A century in a day-night Test against England to start the calendar year was followed up by a crucial ton against Pakistan. His 126 in a series decider against Pakistan also helped the Kiwis record a historic series victory away from home.

Henry Nicholls and Kane Williamson on the run during first Test between England and New Zealand

During the Pakistan tour, Nicholls was integral when it came to dealing with Yasir Shah’s spin. He faced 515 deliveries from spinners in that series, more than any other individual from either side. That series turned out to be significant for Nicholls as his transformation from a hard-hitting limited overs player to a specialist batsman in Tests was complete. His performances in Tests was further validated when he moved up to seventh spot in the ICC Test batsmen ranking.

He then received more plaudits from critics when he achieved the remarkable feat of reaching the highest average of 73.11 among the leading run-scorers in Test cricket in 2018. For a player who was once on the verge of losing his place in Tests, Nicholls' turnaround is nothing sort of sensational and goes to prove that hard work and determination can make anything possible. 

Having said that, New Zealand’s ex-coach Mike Hesson still believes that the left-handed batsman is still a work in progress and along with Tom Latham are entrusted to carry forward the Black Caps' batting legacy beyond Williamson. The transition Nicholls has made will face its biggest test yet when they welcome the Indians for T20 and ODI series' at home ahead of the 2019 World Cup. If Nicholls can stand up and be counted against the Indians, the New Zealand cricket fraternity can be both proud and confident heading into the World Cup later this year in England.   

Words: Ritvik Mawkin

Images: PA

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