Henry Nicholls’ maiden Test century marked a terrific revival for New Zealand on the first day of the second Test against South Africa at Wellington. If not for Nicholls’ 118 off 161 balls, New Zealand’s first innings total of 268 could have been pretty less after the early debacle the team faced.
As anticipated, the weakened Black Caps found it tough to cope with the Proteas pace attack. Du Plessis made the obvious choice of fielding first after winning the toss. New Zealand faced tough time straight away as they crumbled to 21/3 before as Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada enjoyed full benefits of the disciplined line and assistance from the track. Keshav Maharaj then amplified the hosts problems before JP Duminy put the final stop to the opposition’s batting-order with a career best 4/47. South Africa definitely ended the day as clear winners despite losing two quick wickets in the last session.
New Zealand looked all but certain going towards a sub-200 score. Latham was in need of some runs but managed just eight, skipper Kane Williamson had the majority of batting responsibility in Ross Taylor’s absence but failed, Neil Broom registered a duck on debut while Jeet Raval had made himself settled enough to impress his home crowd before he lost his plot. This was, in short, the story of their top-order.
Assisted by three slips and gully, Morne Morkel began the proceedings with the new ball and was the first to break through for the Proteas. The new ball was utilised in the usual Morne style as maintained a sharp line and length right from the first over which resulted in two back to back maidens at the start of his spell, before he snapped the first wicket for South Africa in the seventh over.
The dismissal seemed as if it was in the making. Latham kept offering angled bat and the ball seamed away from the outside edge on the more than a couple of occasions before he finally nicked one to Dean Elgar at third slip in the same fashion. Rabada then turned out and grabbed two in two overs – first Williamson and then Broom.
Both the bowlers continued bowing few unplayable deliveries as Raval tried fighting back with counter attacking hits to the boundaries. Nicholls meanwhile made some space for himself. Just when the pair began easing up against Rabada and Morne, Faf du Plessis brought a bowling change replacing the quicks with Vernon Philander and JP Duminy. Their introduction kicked off dry spell, which saw both Nicholls and Raval playing 24 dot balls.
However, after managing a respectable 52 runs for the fourth wicket, it seemed Raval had become too impatient after the dry spell. This impatience led to his downfall. Maharaj turned the last over before lunch profitable by striking right after been getting introduced in the attack. Raval, well set at 36, for some strange reason, threw his bat at the very first ball from the left-arm spinner which took a nick and luckily beat Hashim Amla at first slips to run for a four. However, two balls later, the left-hander made the fatal mistake and pushed a turning delivery to Amla.
The post lunch session was highly productive as compared to the opening session as Nicholls flourished and stitched up a vital stand with BJ Watling which yielded New Zealand 116 runs for the sixth wicket. South Africans were never down at any time but the survival tactics shown by the duo, especially Watling led to such a fabulous stand.
While Nicholls managed to scrape runs on a consistent basis which was evident as he ended with 118 off 161 balls. Watling at the same time, stuck to a caution-first approach and scored just 34 off 132 balls. It was perhaps sensible for the wicketkeeper to play in such fashion when runs came smoothly from the other end.
South Africa was able to come back only after JP Duminy claimed three wickets in three overs resulting in the departure of Nicholls, de Grandhomme and Watling, before picking the final wicket of Neil Wagner to bring an end to the first innings.
In reply, South Africa had an uneasy time during their 25 minutes towards the end as they lost Stephen Cook, who could have avoided playing a reckless shot at a time when he was struggling to get runs but unfortunately, he was induced to play a false drive which ended up in him nicking the ball straight to Neesham at second slip. While his poor series continued, Dean Elgar, who hit 140 and 89 in the previous game, was also caught in the same position off de Grandhomme’s bowling. All of this happened inside seven overs of the play indicating that a mouth-watering contest is once again is brewing between both teams.
New Zealand: 268 all out (Henry Nicholls 118; JP Duminy 4/47)
South Africa: 24/2