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Rob Nicol's Auckland team-mates have a variety of nicknames for their 18-year-old colt, but after his tenacious display on the second day of the State Championship match against Otago at Colin Maiden Park today they should strike a new one - "Mr Valuable."
Two matches ago Nicol and his young team-mate Reece Young staged a late first innings rally of 153 runs which took Auckland to a first innings lead and eventually outright victory against Canterbury.
Today Mark Richardson gave Auckland a flying start with a neat 100 in pursuit of the modest Otago first innings total of 241, but a middle-order collapse had Auckland sliding to 178/6, and with the tight-fisted Otago bowlers slowly stealing the initiative.
Four hours later Nicol strode from the field in triumph. His first first-class century with 106 not out. A 110-run seventh-wicket stand with Brooke Walker (27) had rescued Auckland from disaster and took them to 309/8 - a handy 68-run stand for the Championship leaders and a new and promising hero in the Auckland camp.
Chris Drum, the senior Auckland bowler, afterward spoke of the warm admiration the old sweats of the Auckland side have for their young team-mate.
"Rob is a tremendous young fellow, so keen to learn," said Drum. "He sits quietly in the dressing room, he does not have a lot to say but you can see he is absorbing all he can find out about cricket - he is a great listener.
"Funnily enough," said Drum, "Rob seems to attract nicknames. One of them is 'Mr Key', because as a chap who bats, bowls, fields and has tremendous enthusiasm he is really a key man.
"Another is 'Tom' because the lads reckon he looks like Tom Moody, the Australian, when he bowls."
"All the lads like Rob, and epsecially the hard-working bowlers like myself. When he is batting so long and so well, we can sit for longer with our feet up."
When the talk is about hard-working and hot bowlers, then Otago had several at the head of the queue.
There was little assistance in the sun-dried pitch for the Otago seamers, David Sewell, James McMillan and Craig Pryor, but they toiled manfully and for a time seemed to have Auckland on the rack.
Nathan Morland and Rob Smith, the spinners, worked just as hard - Morland usually with the advantage of bowling into some rough at the eastern end of the pitch. Morland finished with two for 64 from 31 overs, 26 of them in succession, while Smith tried hard without much luck.
Pryor finished with the fine figures of four wickets for 65 on a ground where his famous father, the late Alby Pryor, used to loll beneath the boundary trees watching his young son carving his early career in Auckland.
Alby's ghost would have smiled as he watched Pryor defeat the odds offered by an amiable pitch and dismiss Matt Horne (0), Aaron Barnes (five) and Llorne Howell (0) - all of them caught by the wicket-keeper Martyn Croy - in a brilliant spell before lunch.
Richardson escaped that noose and worked away sensibly and steadily as he worked himself into the steady, accurate style needed for the test matches just around the corner.
Neither Richardson, Nicol nor Walker who scored 27 (in 191 minutes) smashed the cover from the ball.
Richardson was there for just under four hours, faced 188 balls and hit 17 fours. Nicol has already batted five hours for his 106 not out, and Walker hit only three fours from the 144 balls he faced.
But it said much for the classical style of Richardson, the surprising maturity of the 18-year-old Nicol, and the magnificent stamina and spirit of the Otago bowlers that ther game was often absorbing and seldom dull.