Plunket Shield round-up: Nicholls' hundred, Eden Park thriller and Conway-watch

A look at the things that caught the eye as New Zealand's first-class got underway

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Henry Nicholls opened the Plunket Shield with a century against Northern Districts, Canterbury v Northern Districts, Plunket Shield, Christchurch, October 21, 2019

Henry Nicholls opened the Plunket Shield with a century against Northern Districts  •  Getty Images

Saturday is taking far too long to come, but while we wait for the All Blacks to have better luck than the Black Caps and therefore completely erase everything that happened one July evening at some random cricket ground let's focus on a sport that is totally devoid of contact and insists on going on for days on end. Here are the highlights from the opening round of Plunket Shield matches.
Kane misses the run train
The New Zealand first-class season got underway earlier this week and it offered us a truly rare sight indeed. Kane Williamson got out for 26 in a match where 888 runs were scored in the space of two innings. Hagley Oval didn't so much lay out a pitch as a bright and shiny welcome mat for batsmen and was even cool enough to entertain members of the opposition too. A Test series against England starts soon and their media manager was at the ground taking in the sunshine and quite possibly the coordinates of the Matt Henry ball that hit the deck and generated the extra bounce necessary to get Williamson to nick off to second slip. It later emerged that Williamson has a recurrence of a hip problem and will miss the T20Is against England.
Henry's hundred
There were four centuries in that game - a career-best 170 from Daryl Mitchell, a free-flowing 119 from Tim Seifert, a sturdy 107 from Cole McConchie but Henry Nicholls' 103 might have been the most relevant of them all, at least when seen from the point of view that he'll be facing Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer soon and that he's prepared for it by smacking around Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner. The innings contained all his trademarks - not caring that the scoreboard read 29 for 2 when he came in and waiting for the bad ball. Most of his 10 boundaries were punches down the ground when the bowlers straight too straight and cuts and pulls when he had the width to free his arms.
Side note: Boult picked up his 100th first-class wicket for Northern Districts. Mitchell Santner fell four short of his third first-class hundred.
The customary Eden Park thriller
It all went down at the Outer Oval but there was enough of that pixie dust that turns simple cricket matches at Eden Park into hair-raising roller-coaster rides. Auckland went into the final session of the game needing five wickets. Central Districts were 80 runs off their 231-run target, and they had a set batsman in the middle.
Dane Cleaver was batting on 72 when the magic happened. He fell lbw to a guy nearly seven feet tall. Kyle Jamieson - high-arm action and all - has to be the least likely bowler to trap people in front of a set of stumps that must look like stray twigs to him but he did. And you know what, he has a history of doing stuff like this. Last year, he took 6 for 7, the third best figures in all T20 cricket.
That strike left Central Districts with 47 more to get and three wickets in hand. The other new-ball bowler Matt McEwan made sure that didn't happen, finishing the game off and walking away with eight wickets from the two innings.
Side note: Martin Guptill, who tried batting in the middle order the last Plunket Shield season, was opening for Auckland and made a battling half-century on a pitch that reportedly offered plenty of help to the bowlers.
Devon Conway in Chilly Welly
So apparently, for a little while right over the Basin Reserve, the sky started to fall.
And that was good because people not in the know could watch Devon Conway and realise why people in the know are raving about him. The left-handed top-order batsman is on the fast track to playing for New Zealand... except for the fact that he hasn't completed his residency period yet (three years per ICC rules). Conway was born in Johannesburg and has to wait until next September to get into the national side, but the wheels have started turning. Earlier this month, he attended New Zealand's T20 training camp.
"We like the skills that he has as a player," head coach Gary Stead was quoted as saying by "And this gives us an opportunity to see a little bit more of him at a level up from first-class cricket. He looks like he could have the goods to play international cricket and that's part of these camps, is finding out more."
Not a bad return considering Conway had to cut short a five-week trip back home to be in Lincoln for a winter training camp in June.
The 28-year old was named the men's domestic player of 2018 having finished as the top scorer in the Plunket Shield, with 659 runs at an average of 82. And now, in the 2019 season opener, he struck a vital first-innings 96 that helped Wellington seal victory over Otago.
"That is a dream to wear that black cap," Conway was quoted as saying by in April. "But it's going to take time and it's quite nice knowing that because there's no real pressure. It's a matter of working hard and improving and seeing where that takes me."
Conway has impressive T20 numbers as well. He hit a chart-topping 363 runs at a strike-rate of 144 for Wellington in the last Super Smash season and it so happens that he will be available to play for New Zealand a month before next year's World Cup.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo