NZ build towards future-proof batting order

Henry Nicholls plays a pull
New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 3rd day December 28, 2018

When Tom Latham grinds out big scores, Jeet Raval gets a good start, Henry Nicholls consolidates at No. 5, and Colin de Grandhomme produces the rollicking lower-middle order slogfests, it can feel like New Zealand have a rocking top seven. When Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor's contributions almost go overlooked, that feeling only grows stronger. And when BJ Watling isn't even required to produce one of his backs-to-the-wall innings, it can seem like something of a slam-dunk case.

Especially if three batsmen in that batting order - Nicholls, Latham and Williamson - have each made more than 600 runs across seven Tests this year. In fact, the trio have the highest averages among batsmen with more than 350 runs in 2018. Nicholls is comfortably the highest, at 73.11. Latham and Williamson are at 59.81 and 59.18 respectively. None are older than 28, which suggests this is something of a future-proof top order.

Batting coach Craig McMillan agrees. He suggested that New Zealand is reaping the benefits of several years of investing in these young batsmen.

"From a batting point of view you need to know that you're not playing for your place in the next two or three innings," he said. "You get the benefits of that further down the track. Whilst the nature of the beast is that some guys are going to miss out in certain conditions, against certain opposition, if you give them that confidence that you're going to stick with them for a period of time, I think then you get the results.

"We've had some real consistency with that top six, top seven for a period of time. Now they've played 20 Tests to 40 Tests, and we're going to see the benefits of that for the next two, three, four years."

It is worth remembering that those impressive numbers have come in a year in which New Zealand also won a three-Test series in Asia, defeating Pakistan 2-1 in the UAE. Nicholls' adaptability is worthy of special mention. He has scored two second-innings tons in December - one to dig New Zealand out of a hole in Abu Dhabi, and the other to consolidate the team's position in the ongoing home Test.

"I guess the pleasing thing is that while we haven't played a lot of Test cricket this year, we've played in different conditions," McMillan said. "In the UAE our game plans were tested in terms of spin-bowling, reverse swing, and different things. We've come back to New Zealand where pace and bounce is the challenge. You have to adapt to those different conditions really well. As a batting unit that's something we're getting better and better at, and it's something we're doing quicker and quicker."

Although opener Raval has not had as prolific a year as many of his team-mates, only passing fifty in the second innings of the ongoing Test, McMillan has been complimentary of the regular starts Raval has got. In this game, he had been involved in a 121-run partnership with Latham on day two.

"Jeet Raval's 70-odd and that opening partnership - any time you put on a partnership of 120-odd for the first wicket, it just makes it easier for Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 to come in and not be under the kind of pressure that they are if the openers don't get a score. Test cricket is about patience and discipline to bat as long as you can. Those guys made good decisions for a long time."

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