Henry Nicholls answered his critics with a maiden century to rescue New Zealand on a torrid first day for batsmen in the second Test against South Africa on Thursday.
New Zealand, on the back of Nicholls’ 118, recovered from 21 for three to be all out for 268 in Wellington. South Africa lost two wickets for 12 runs and moved on to 24 for two at stumps.
The pressure was on Nicholls when he went to the middle with New Zealand three down and with his Test average of 30.12 from 18 innings putting his position as a number five batsman under scrutiny.
“I was just trying to look to be positive and really decisive and that’s something that held me in good stead,” he said.
“I took a bit of confidence even from the first Test in Dunedin. I wasn’t out there very long (12 off 26) but I felt very good out there and it was nice to continue that.
“There’s always going to be speculation about your spot, but I just tried to stay really clear in my mind and I’ve had great support (from the team) who kept reinforcing for me to go out there and play my game.”
JP Duminy, a batsman part-time spinner who proved South Africa’s most effective bowler with four for 47, said Nicholls showed how to handle the Basin Reserve conditions.
“To play as positive as he did was probably the way to go on a surface like that. Hopefully we can take something out of that and get some success,” he said.
With Keshav Maharaj striking twice, the South African spin pair took six wickets between them in conditions that favoured seam and swing bowling.
“It’s not a wicket you would think spinners will dominate on. But the plan and strategy we had to get wickets was a good one, to bowl a wider line.”
On a day in which 12 wickets fell, Nicholls played an innings of confident drives and cuts against the quicks and sure footwork against spin.
In one notable over from Rabada, a central figure in the top order collapse, Nicholls smacked three fours.
The second took him past his previous best 98 and to his breakthrough century, while the next four lifted his partnership with BJ Watling to 103 to better one of the longest-standing New Zealand cricket records.
The previous best sixth-wicket stand by New Zealand against South Africa of 100 was set 85 years ago by Ted Badcock and Giff Vivian.
When South African captain Faf du Plessis won the toss, there were early rewards for the fast bowlers.
After Morne Morkel dismissed Tom Latham for eight, and Kagiso Rabada captured the key wicket of Kane Williamson for two and four balls later had debutant Neil Broom for a duck.
Maharaj removed Jeet Ravel (36) and Jimmy Neesham (15) either side of the lunch break. Watling joined Nicholls to add 116 before New Zealand’s batting anchor was bowled by Duminy.
It triggered a brief collapse in which three wickets fell for five before Tim Southee and Jeetan Patel lashed out with a whirlwind 44 off as many balls.
Morkel ended Southee’s brief cameo of 27 off 30 deliveries while Patel was left not out 17 off 14.
South Africa in reply lost both openers. First Test centurion Dean Elgar went for nine and out-of-form Stephen Cook was dismissed for three, to trail by 244 at the close of play.
Nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada was on eight with Hashim Amla yet to score.