Test-match intensity a 'step up' - Henry Nicholls
The day after Australia won the first Test in Wellington, New Zealand coach Mike Hesson was asked to nominate the positives he would take from the defeat. Trent Boult's improving consistency was one, in Hesson's reckoning, but the other was the impressive debut of Henry Nicholls. New Zealand might have lost the Test, but they have found a Test batsman. And as luck would have it, a full-time place is about to open up.
Nicholls made his debut at the Basin Reserve as a replacement for the injured Ross Taylor, but the impending retirement of captain Brendon McCullum after the second Test in Christchurch means that even when Taylor returns, there will be a place for Nicholls. It has been a breakthrough summer for Nicholls, 24, who this season has two first-class hundreds and an average of 81.50, as well as two fifties in his first few weeks of ODI cricket.
At the Basin Reserve, Nicholls looked solid enough in the first innings before he was caught behind off Peter Siddle for 8, but in the second innings he really showed his potential with 59 as wickets fell around him. Nicholls handled the increased intensity of a Test match - and one at which the first three days were sold out - with maturity, but he said he was not looking too far ahead at a potential permanent place in the side.
"The intensity out there was a step up," Nicholls said. "But also there's a lot that goes into it, the build-up into the Test, it's a series against Australia so it adds that as well, but it's another obstacle that you don't have in first-class cricket. It's a step up and I really enjoyed the step up in intensity and it was a good contest.
"It's Brendon's last Test, but for me personally it's more of a focus on this Test and us trying to put in a good performance and level the series. I'm not too worried, not looking forward too much in that aspect ... I'm not too worried about who I'm in for, just trying to do a role for the team."
One thing in Nicholls' favour over the coming week will be his familiarity with Hagley Oval; he has made 683 first-class runs at the venue at 52.53, including two of his four centuries. This will be just the second Test match played at Hagley Oval and Nicholls said the players should expect similar conditions to the Basin Reserve.
"It's always nice to be back in your hometown and with the great facility here at Hagley it's a ground that I really personally enjoy playing at," Nicholls said. "I haven't seen the wicket today, but I've played here a few times and it's usually a good wicket, a bit of pace in the wicket. It's potentially quite similar to the Basin."
New Zealand will need to make at least one change to their side, with fast bowler Doug Bracewell having been ruled out due to a shoulder injury, and Matt Henry and Neil Wagner vying for his place in the team. Australia will also have at least one change, with Peter Siddle out with back soreness and James Pattinson the likely replacement.
Neither of the batting line-ups is likely to change, meaning New Zealand will have to find a way through a highly-productive Australian top five that features the in-form Usman Khawaja, who has now scored four consecutive first-innings hundreds in Tests. Like his team-mates, Nicholls wanted to see the back of Khawaja during his 140 in Wellington, but he enjoyed catching up with him after they had been Sydney Thunder team-mates in the BBL this summer.
"The Sydney Thunder was a great experience," he said. "It feels like a wee while ago now. It was a good couple of games. I got to play with Usman when he was - and he still is - in red-hot form. I managed to bat with him in Adelaide in that semi-final, which was good fun. It was nice to catch up with him the other day and congratulate him on winning the Big Bash in that final."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale