Williamson and Nicholls make history for Black Caps

Six months ago, it was reasonable to wonder when Kane Williamson would rediscover his best with the bat.

Six days ago, it was fair to question whether Henry Nicholls would retain his place in the team.

Today at the Basin Reserve, Williamson and Nicholls became the first Black Caps teammates to score double-centuries in the same innings, batting with a level control matched by their side’s position after two days of the second test against Sri Lanka.

After New Zealand declared on 580-4, their fourth-best score once asked to bat first, Matt Henry and Doug Bracewell — with the assistance of a special catch from Devon Conway — reduced the tourists to 26-2 at stumps.

If the Black Caps do as now expected and eventually finish this summer’s test programme by earning a third straight win, the accomplishment will owe much to Williamson and Nicholls.

Beginning the second day with a stand of 37, the pair put on 363 runs for the third wicket — the fifth-highest partnership for New Zealand in tests — and rendered irrelevant any concerns over their short- or long-term prospects.

Williamson had already banished doubts about his health that arose with a lingering elbow injury, an ailment that saw him endure almost a year without a 50 in any format. This 215 was his second double-ton of the summer and third score above 100 in his last four turns.

Nicholls, conversely, started today aiming to end a run of 14 innings without scoring more than 30, a prolonged slump that left his spot subject to external debate. This unbeaten 200 rewarded the side’s selectors who seemed to hold few qualms about persisting.

The pair’s contrasting form came together in a day of batting sublimity, as Williamson recorded his sixth test 200 while Nicholls achieved a new career high.

The milestones were almost entirely deserving. Although Nicholls was dropped twice, on six and 92, he otherwise matched Williamson in shot-making and exceeded him in strike rate.

Both batsmen are generally content for their scoring clip to sit near 50 in tests but both raced along throughout their innings, cracking a combined 38 fours and six sixes.

What most impressed was that neither man ever appeared in a hurry. Instead, their rapid accumulation was mere reflection of their command.

That began in a breezy opening hour in which the pair eased past 100 and showed no sign of slowing.

Williamson, having surpassed Ross Taylor atop this country’s test runscoring standings on his list trip to Wellington, became the first Kiwi to reach 8000 and broke the barrier in relatively rapid fashion.

Needing only 164 innings, Williamson drew level in eighth with Brian Lara and Matthew Hayden for fewest required, while he also moved past Mark Waugh, Garry Sobers and Geoffrey Boycott in total career runs.

Naturally, the former skipper barely acknowledged the subsequent announcement to the crowd, though he was soon forced to remove his helmet and raise his bat.

Williamson notched his 28th test ton in style befitting an innings of total authority, bisecting a couple of fielders with a perfectly placed drive to the cover fence.

Sri Lanka took the new ball shortly before lunch, the hosts enjoying their meal on 304-2, but it did nothing to negate the batsmen’s dominance.

Consecutive Williamson boundaries saw the 200-run partnership come up from 308 balls, before he registered 150 for the 10th time in tests.

At the other end, Nicholls was fortunate to escape when chipping a simple caught-and-bowled chance to Dhananjaya de Silva, using that life to then celebrate his ninth — and most relieving — test century.

The 31-year-old went to tea after pulling 16 runs from the last three balls from Asitha Fernando, as the pair passed 300 while scoring at 5.35 in the middle session.

Remarkably, today marked the second time Williamson and Nicholls had compiled a collective triple-ton, putting on 369 against Pakistan in 2021.

This stand would fall barely short as Williamson looked to hit out after becoming the seventh man in test history to score six double-centuries. Holing out to long-on represented his first real mistake in six-and-a-half hours of batting.

Williamson was soon applauding from the pavilion as his erstwhile partner reached 200 from 240 deliveries, prompting an immediate declaration from Tim Southee that was duly rewarded before stumps.

First, Henry found the edge of Oshada Fernando; then, Conway snagged a cut from Kusal Mendis while at airborne at full extension, giving Bracewell a wicket in his first test since 2016.

By Kris Shannon