Under-pressure Henry Nicholls led a determined New Zealand fightback from a disastrous start to the second Test against South Africa in Wellington on Thursday.
From being 21 for three early on, New Zealand were 160 for five at tea with Nicholls unbeaten on 74, his fifth half-century, and BJ Watling on 21.
The 25-year-old Nicholls went into the Test with an average of 30.12 from his previous 18 Test innings with questions raised whether this was good enough for a number five batsman, especially one filling the shoes of Brendon McCullum.
A score of 12 in his only innings in the drawn first Test in Dunedin did not help the left-hander’s cause, but he has proved unflappable against a fired-up South African attack in Wellington.
He worked with Jeet Raval in a 52-run stand to get New Zealand out of their early trouble and has followed with partnerships of 28 with Jimmy Neesham and a current stand of 59 with Watling.
Nicholls’ 74 is his third highest score behind a 98 against Bangladesh two months ago and 76 against South Africa last August.
The Proteas took the honours in the first session when the hosts went to lunch at 73 for four, but New Zealand added 87 for the loss of one wicket between lunch and tea.
Neesham went for 15, stumped by Quinton de Kock when he moved too far forward to defend against Keshav Maharaj.
South Africa won the toss and opted to bowl in conditions offering seam and swing movement.
Morne Morkel continued Tom Latham’s run of low scores when he had the New Zealand opener caught at third slip for eight.
Right-arm quick Kagiso Rabada came into the attack in the ninth over and immediately took the key wicket of Kane Williamson for two and debutant Neil Broom without scoring as the New Zealand top order collapsed.
Opener Raval opted to leave the ball when he could until the last over before lunch when he poked at a wide delivery from Maharaj and was caught by the sole slip fielder Hashim Amla.
For South Africa, Rabada and Maharaj have shared the honours with two wickets each. DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine