Henry Nicholls has mastered the art of hitting career-saving hits
Henry Nicholls has played 57 Test matches for New Zealand and is likely to add.
Here’s the thing, though: He very well could have stopped at 56. Or 44. Or 34. Hell, even at 9.
But it wasn’t.
New Zealand’s limited talent pool has played a big part in Nicholls remaining a Test regular. Just like NZC’s obsession with giving the headlines as long as possible before throwing them away.
But why Nicholls is still a part of the Test is not only for the above reasons.
Nicholls is still a regular fixture in 2023, having mastered the art of playing career-saving shots like no one else in the history of the sport.
Nicholls went into the second Test against Sri Lanka in Wellington with a realistic chance of it being his last, for a while, if ever.
In the previous 15 Test innings, he had collected only 250 runs at an average of 16.66.
To give some context, of the 42 players who batted at least 15 in this period, only Tim Southee (14.31), Kagiso Rabada (13.66), Jack Leach (12.20) and Khaled Ahmed (0.50) fared worse.
It wasn’t just bad. It was a bad sight
We all know what happened next: Nicholls smashed a double ton, his first ever in Test cricket (what a time to do that!), and smashed it in style. In the process, he ended up saving his Test career. Again.
The “again” is being emphasized here for a reason: Wellington’s Houdini event was the fourth time Nicholls, in his 57-Test career, was on the verge of pulling off something special.
We’ve heard hitters hit career-saving hits once, maybe twice. Nicholls was here to make one the fourth time
The first of the four was on 12 January 2017 against Bangladesh in Wellington.
Some may argue that calling it a career-saving knock is a stretch, but after a middling start to his Test career, averaging 24.23 in 14 innings with two fifties-plus scores in nine Tests, Nicholls desperately needed it. a score
Notably in his previous 12 innings he scored 30-plus only twice, both of which came in the same Test against South Africa at Centurion.
It wasn’t a double ton or a match-defining half-century. It was an incredibly slow 53 on a flat wicket in a team of 539.
In the context of the game, it was important but not game-changing. In the context of his career, however, it was essential as it ensured he would get at least one more goal.
And of course it paid off, scoring 98 in the second Test of the series in Christchurch before notching a Test ton two months later to seal his place.
The ton against South Africa would be the start of a golden phase in Tests for Nicholls – he would average 60.47 over a 13-Test spell, scoring a total of five tons, the most impressive of the lot. 126 not out in the third innings against Pakistan away in UAE.
In an ideal world, Nicholls’ dream becomes more than a wild purple catch, and he will become a rock in the BlackCaps’ middle order. But you and I both know that’s not how sports or life works.
As it would turn out, Nicholls would suffer a terrible 16 months after the aforementioned golden period, averaging 20.33 and failing to score more than fifty runs in 13 innings.
By now, Nicholls had enough credit in the bank that the management were willing to give him a pretty long rope. But at the same time, New Zealand were chasing a place in the final of the World Test Championship (WTC) and the last thing they needed was a passenger in their batting unit.
Then Will Young also hit the wicket in earnest: in the same span, Young averaged 60.73 in 10 first-class matches, cracking three hundreds.
So when Nicholls went into the second Test of the series against the West Indies, having scored 7 in the only innings he batted in the first, there was real pressure to make runs.
Another defeat and he probably won’t make Pakistan’s Test starting XI.
But Nicholls is no stranger to this situation, and so, with his immediate Test place on the line, he smashes his highest Test score: 174 in an innings by a Top 7 Kiwi batsman to get past 50.
Better, he backs it up with another score of 150 three innings later, against Pakistan.
Nicholls faced the god of death, but said calmly not today
After his 174 versus the Windies, Nicholls was probably hoping not to find himself in a similar situation again in the near future.
But a year later, he somehow managed to land himself in the precarious position again, although this time the slim patch was quite small.
The southpaw averaged 21.90 in a seven-Test period between June 2021 and January 2022 and came into the Tests against South Africa at home under considerable pressure, especially as he recorded back-to-back ducks against Bangladesh; the first of those two ducks came in the ill-fated second innings of the Mount Maunganui Test, where Ebadot Hossain cruised through the Kiwi batting line-up on a quiet wicket.
The absence of skipper Williamson meant that Nicholls played in the South Africa series – his place was in real danger before that – but there was a good chance he failed in the England series.
Williamson was guaranteed to take up a place in the middle order once he regained fitness, and the shootout was therefore between Nicholls and Daryl Mitchell.
No prizes for guessing what happened next.
After the bowlers bundled South Africa out for 95 on the morning of Day 1, Nicholls smashed his 8th Test ton on Day 2 to lead his side to victory.
More importantly, he once again tore his way into starting XI safety with the grim reaper staring him in the face.
At this point, you can’t help but feel that fate is working its magic.
The fact that he managed to play four strikes to save his career is ridiculous enough.
But the absurdity does not end there.
On three of those hits, Nicholls has been behind the porch.
En route to 174 against the Windies, Nicholls fell not once, not twice, but three times in his first 87 deliveries.
Then against the Proteas in Christchurch, Zubayr Hamza put him on the 11th ball while batting five.
On Friday, however, he was given two breaks, the first off his 20th ball, thanks to debutant keeper Nishan Madushka.
Honestly, what are the chances?
Henry Nicholls has played 57 test matches for New Zealand. But from the looks of things, it looks like a chance to play hundreds.