Trent Boult’s performance ensured it wasn’t the biggest transformation undergone by the Black Caps yesterday, but their major opening change could be significant for their World Cup chances.
Henry Nicholls’ promotion to the top of the order came as a surprise, with the Canterbury left-hander replacing Colin Munro, to open the innings alongside Martin Guptill.
However, after Boult and the bowlers routed India for 92, it was hard to read too much into what followed from the batsmen, leaving plenty still to figure out before the Black Caps’ World Cup campaign begins in June.
What Nicholls did show was promising, however. While most of the Black Caps’ other options to open were too slow, too risky, or simply unproven at the international level, Nicholls – in theory – ticks most of the boxes desired by the Black Caps selectors. Able to be aggressive and get the side off to a quick start, Nicholls also has more caution to his game than Munro, and can accumulate if that’s what the situation requires.
In his opening debut, he looked unflustered in an unbeaten 30 off 42 balls, showing his power with four fours and a six, but also playing smartly after the early losses of Guptill and Kane Williamson.
It’s not a completely new experience for Nicholls – he has opened briefly before at domestic level, and has batted everywhere from 3-7 for the Black Caps in ODIs. And, considering his breakout summer and the fact that his talents are not always maximised batting at number six, his new role provides an excellent opportunity – one Black Caps coach Gary Stead wasn’t surprised that he took well in his solid start.
“Part of our campaign plan for this Indian series was to look at options at the top of the order, and Henry Nicholls has been a bit of a fix-it man across a number of areas. I know from my time when I was coaching Henry at Canterbury that he had opened before … so it wasn’t a real surprise to me that he could do this,” Stead told Radio Sport Breakfast.
Now, with four games to go until the World Cup, the Black Caps have a small window to ensure that they’ve found the right combination. While Guptill’s whimsical 14 from four balls was his sixth consecutive ODI without passing 15, he does have the pedigree worth backing – something Munro, with just one 50 in last 15 innings and an average of 25, doesn’t have in ODI cricket.
It seems unlikely that the Black Caps would have promoted Nicholls if he wasn’t going to keep the role for the three-match Bangladesh series as well, but Stead is playing his cards close to his chest.
“In terms of the future and where we go, who knows at this stage. Colin Munro is certainly in our plans; I think it’s likely that Henry will get another go in the short-term though.
“After that, who knows, there’s selection [discussions] we still need to go through. Colin Munro, it certainly isn’t the end of him, but we’ve talked about things and we’ve worked out some areas of the game we want to keep seeing Colin improve in.”
Munro could still have great value to the Black Caps as a big-hitting finisher in the middle order, but for now, it looks like the World Cup opening spot is Nicholls’ to lose.