This is the only the second time that New Zealand are entering a Cricket World Cup as one of the favorites. While the rugby-mad country has enough arsenal to dream that the cup might be lifted aloft by enigmatic Kiwi birds, how does the team seem and what is it about Henry Nicholls that inspires confidence?
It was 1999 when Stephen Fleming and his men created history becoming first New Zealand side to win a test series in England, thousands of miles away in Christchurch there was a 7-year-old boy who was inspired by its heroes and started dreaming to play like them.
Someday, he wanted to play elegantly like his role model Stephan Fleming and on most others he would love to hit the ball out of the park like Nathan Astle or Chris Cairns, nothing could stop him when he was in the mood to smash the ball, not even if it meant breaking character; he was Stephen Fleming whenever they played backyard cricket and his version didn’t nudge and nurdle.
As he grew up so as his desire to play for New Zealand, he made his first-class debut in Nov 2011, just a few days before his 20th Birthday and after years of grinding in domestic cricket he ultimately got a call up in 2015-16 , a season when New Zealand bid adieu one of its most popular and successful captains Brendon McCullum.
While Nicholls started with a fifty in his initial test but couldn’t sustain the consistency as he averaged only 24 after his first 9 Tests.
It was, however, the home series against South Africa that was the one which changed the fortune and took him to the next level as a cricketer.
While he scored only 15 at Dunedin, the innings gave him the confidence that he could be successful in ODIs. In the next game at Basin Reserve, he scored a quality century, coming at 21-3 against a quality South African pace attack comprising of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.
This was the innings that transformed him.
In 2018, he took the mantle of turning into an important batsman of the national side.
His unbeaten 145 at Eden Park was a demonstration of the sheer versatility of his batting.
However, it was the series against Pakistan that enhanced his reputation.
Playing against Yasir Shah on turning pitches- Henry Nicholls made scores of 28, 55, 0,77, 1, and finally, that unbeaten 126.
His hundred can be termed among the best three years in his international career.
During the innings, he showed immense patience, strong temperament, and a hunger score.
New Zealand were trailing by 74 runs in first innings and by the time he came at the wicket they were 60-4. Despite being in this pressure cooker of a situation, he added a double century partnership with Kane Williamson.
His 126 came off 266 balls and was instrumental in what was a series win among the all-time greatest series win in the history of New Zealand Cricket.
After 25 tests, he scored 5 centuries and amassed 1510 runs at an impressive average of 45.7.
While Nicholls has been more successful in the Test arena, he’d want this success to be replicated in the ODIs.
In a format all eyes are transfixed upon, he’s collected from 41 Matches, 1029 runs at 35.48.
In the World Cup, a lot will depend on him to ease the burden NZ’s famous trio of Guptill, Williamson and Ross Taylor, often face.
Can he along with Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, fire the useful runs?
We will have to see.
But there’s little doubt about his skill as a pure batsman.
That said, here’s what one can say without fail about an elegant batsman, one whose batting may not cover headlines each day but has the potential to take the world by storm.
In spite of his success, Henry Nicholls seems to know that he is not yet a finished product.
He has a number of challenges to overcome.
Among the major ones will be the tour to Australia later this year. But above all, it seems that in the 27-year-old Henry Nicholls, New Zealand have a great batsman in making, a man whose persona can be very Stephen Fleming avuncular-like.
The past 15 months serve that example.