WELLINGTON: Henry Nicholls made an unbeaten 74 in partnerships of 52 with Jeet Raval and 87, unbroken, with B.J. Watling as New Zealand rallied between lunch and tea Thursday on the opening day of the second test against South Africa.
After Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada broke through New Zealand's top order, leaving it 21-3, and spinner Keshav Maharaj snatched bonus wickets on either side of lunch, the task of rebuilding fell to Nicholls.
He needed a big innings to strengthen his claim on the No. 5 spot in the batting order and at the same time New Zealand looked to the 25-year-old right hander, as its last specialist batsman, for a performance which would revive a fading innings.
His contribution as New Zealand progressed from 73-4 at lunch to 160-5 at tea was on a par with his 76 against South Africa at Centurion last year, when he went to the crease with New Zealand 7-4.
New Zealand's position wasn't quite that dire at the Basin Reserve, but it was still in a tough spot after being sent in after losing the toss on a pitch which is likely to be ideal for batting when the Proteas have use of it in their first innings.
Nicholls combined with Raval (36) in the first effort by New Zealand batsmen to stop the rot following the dismissals of Tom Latham (8), Kane Williamson (2) and Neil Broom (0).
He was subordinate to Raval at the start but grew in confidence and was 24 when Raval was out to Maharaj immediately before lunch.
Nicholls added 32 in partnership with James Neesham after lunch, a stand that ended when Neesham was stumped by Quinton de Kock from Maharaj when New Zealand was 101-5.
The rebuilding effort began again when Nicholls was joined by wicketkeeper Watling. He went to his fifth half century in tests from 66 balls with a cleanly-hit four down the ground off Maharaj. As the pitch dried out, becoming much more favourable for batting, Nicholls was able to play more agressively and he had eight boundaries by the break. Watling had hit three boundaries in his 21.
There was life in the pitch early on and it was exploited by Morkel, who had Latham caught at third slip.
Rabada made good use of bounce seam movement, bringing a ball back at Williamson which hit the New Zealand captain on the back pad. Williamson was given out and was unable to overturn the decision because the DRS system was briefly out of commission.
Broom, playing his first test at 33 and after 165 first-class matches, lasted only four balls before edging Rabada to de Kock, who took a brilliant, diving catch in front of first slip.