Nicholls helps New Zealand take opening day honours

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Nicholls helps New Zealand take opening day honours
Henry Nicholls scored a fine ton to help New Zealand post a fighting total © AFP

It wasn’t the start that New Zealand wanted after being put into bat first but they would be mightily pleased with how things ended on the opening day of the second Test against South Africa in Wellington. After reeling at 73 for 4 at lunch on Thursday (March 16), New Zealand recovered to post a fighting 268 on the board and then managed to get rid of the South African openers before the stumps were drawn.

The visitors failed to negotiate a tricky half an hour period before the end of the day’s play as New Zealand’s new ball bowlers Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme made inroads. Stephen Cook drove loosely at an away swinging delivery to edge it to the slip cordon and that prompted South Africa to send Kagiso Rabada as the nightwatchman. But Hashim Amla had to anyway walk in, just five balls later, as Dean Elgar fell in similar fashion like his opening partner with James Neesham completing his second catch. Rabada then finished the day with a couple of boundaries off Southee in the final over.

South Africa wouldn’t have anticipated such a finish especially after having New Zealand under pressure for the first two sessions. They went in with an unchanged XI whereas New Zealand made three changes. Southee, Neil Broom and de Grandhomme replaced Trent Boult, Ross Taylor and Mitchell Santner. Morne Morkel struck early for the visitors by finding Tom Latham’s outside edge and then when he was replaced by Rabada, South Africa found more success as the young pacer got rid of skipper Kane Williamson and debutant Broom in quick succession.

Opener Jeet Raval looked in good touch though and had added 52 with Nicholls but South Africa struck again in the last over before the lunch break. Keshav Maharaj got one to go straight and Raval, who played for the turn and edged it instead to first slip. To make matters worse, Neesham fell immediately after the break and with half the side back in the pavilion with just 101 runs on the board, New Zealand needed Nicholls and BJ Watling to step up. And indeed they did, by batting through the session without any further damage. While Nicholls was positive finding the boundary at regular intervals, Watling was at his usual watchful self.

With the left-hander fetching a couple of boundaries off Maharaj, Faf du Plessis introduced JP Duminy into the attack in hope of breaking the partnership. The 25-year-old then took on Rabada and scored 15 runs in an over. After first hitting one between gully and backward point, he hooked one over square leg to bring up his first Test century. He followed it up with another four as the partnership also went past hundred by this time.

He took a liking to Rabada’s bowling and helped himself to two more boundaries but the part-timer Duminy gave South Africa a timely breakthrough. Nicholls stepped down the track to a full-length delivery and failed to connect it as the ball shattered the stumps. The wicket triggered a collapse as New Zealand immediately lost de Grandhomme as well to Duminy. The offspinner dragged the length back a bit after seeing the batsman come down the track. The outside edge took a deflection off Quinton de Kock before being pouched by Amla. He picked up his third wicket in three overs as Watling’s spirited effort came to an end.

Southee and Jeetan Patel then decided to have some fun out in the middle by taking on the bowling attack. 32 runs were scored in the space of four overs as Southee hit Duminy for back-to-back sixes. But it was one shot too many for Southee as he mistimed one to be dismissed for 27. Duminy then helped himself to a rare four-wicket haul by trapping Neil Wagner plumb in front. New Zealand would have been fairly happy with 268 on the board after the disastrous start they made but in the end, the two wickets with the new ball has ensured that the day belonged to them.

Brief Scores

New Zealand 268 Henry Nicholls 118, Jeet Raval 36; JP Duminy 4-47, Keshav Maharaj 2-47

South Africa 24/2 Colin de Grandhomme 1-2, Tim Southee 1-18