Wellington, December 11
When New Zealand and the West Indies arrived at the Basin Reserve on Friday for the first day of the second cricket Test they knew that, one way or another, it was going to be a tough day.
By stumps an unbeaten century by Henry Nicholls, the 100th to be scored on the Basin Reserve, had tipped the match in New Zealand’s favor. New Zealand were 294-6 and Nicholls was 117.
But it had been hard going and no one had done it harder than Nicholls, who scratched for runs at times, living on luck and eventually reaching his sixth Test hundred with a miscued shot behind point. Conditions had set the scene for a testing day.
The pitch had nestled under cover for several days before the match as steady rain fell in the New Zealand capital.
When the covers were drawn back, the pitch was a vivid green but hard underneath its covering of grass. It was clear whoever lost the toss would bat and batting wouldn’t be easy.
At the same time a north-westerly gale blasted across the ground and the team that bowled first would have to steel itself against the storm, especially the bowlers whose task it would be to run into gusts of up to 120kmh (74mph).
So it turned out. West Indies captain Jason Holder won the toss, chose to bowl and his attack led by Shannon Gabriel, who bowled with the wind at his back in his 50th Test, had New Zealand three down by lunch.
Conditions improved for both teams but mostly for New Zealand as the day wore on. The gusts became less furious, the pitch less green as the sun shone and batting less precarious. Spinner Roston Chase was bowling by 5 pm.
No-one lived more precariously than Nicholls, who gave at least three catching chances on his way to his first half century in 14 Test innings, going back to August last year.
Gabriel saw Nicholls dropped by Darren Bravo at first slip when he was 47 and again from Chemar Holder at the same score.
His frustration at the West Indies’ failures in the field was allayed a little by his captain, Holder, who stretched out a long arm to take the catch at second slip which dismissed Will Young for 43 in the second session, giving Gabriel his 150th Test wicket.
Gabriel had dismissed Tom Blundell and Ross Taylor in the first session when the West Indies were ascendant. He bowled Blundell in the seventh over with a ball which drew the batsman half forward, then jagged back between bat and pad.
Chemar Holder had his first wicket when he dismissed New Zealand captain Tom Latham in partnership with wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva, who was also making his Test debut. Da Silva replaced injured Shane Dowrich behind the stumps and Holder came in for Kemar Roach, who returned home after the death of his father.
Latham led New Zealand in the absence of Kane Williamson, whose wife is expecting their first child. His absence leaves a substantial hole in the New Zealand batting lineup which Nicholls tried to fill.
Williamson’s career-best 251 in the first Test played a major part in New Zealand’s win by an innings and 134 runs.
Young said surviving on green pitches was something New Zealand batsmen had to learn.
“Especially early in the season you show up here at the Basin or a lot of wickets around the country and they’re very green,” he said.
“Whether you’re opening or batting 3 or 4 you can be faced with those conditions.
“So you do build a game plan around that and it was no different today. It was very challenging with the bounce from these tall West Indies bowlers so it was tough yards out there.”
Batting remained difficult at the start of the second session but Nicholls managed to survive. It became easier as the day wore on and New Zealand lost only one wicket in each of the second and third sessions.
Nicholls shared partnerships of 70 with Young, 55 with BJ Watling and 83 with Darly Mitchell to play New Zealand into a strong position at the end of a tough day. AP