Henry Nicholls must have upset the cricket gods to be delivered a piece of misfortune so unlucky that nobody watching could believe it.
England’s Jack Leach was left reflecting on a “silly game” after capturing the wicket of Henry Nicholls in bizarre fashion on the opening day of the third Test against New Zealand at Headingley.
The left-arm spinner’s career has been blighted by illness, injury, inconsistent selection and even a concussion suffered while chasing the ball to the boundary in the first Test of this three-match campaign at Lord’s.
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So he was arguably due a moment of good fortune and it arrived a day after his 31st birthday.
Nicholls, on the stroke of tea, drove hard at Leach only for the ball to ricochet off non-striker Daryl Mitchell’s bat and loop gently to Alex Lees at mid-off.
“It was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Leach told reporters following Thursday’s close.
“I didn’t even know if that was allowed, but I’ll take any wicket I can get. You get enough that don’t go your way. It was very unlucky for Nicholls but very lucky for me.”
If that was a bonus wicket, there was no denying the skill with which Leach had struck with his first ball of the day to have Will Young LBW with a delivery that turned and straightened.
Leach, considering the contrast between his wickets in an economical return of 2/75 in 30 overs, added: “It’s a silly game isn’t it? That’s what it made me think, it’s a stupid game we play.
“I like it because it says two wickets up on the board but I don’t like the dismissal.”
New Zealand batting coach Luke Ronchi accepted Leach’s luck in sporting fashion but suggested Nicholls may have felt differently about an extraordinary end to a grafting innings of 19 off 99 balls.
“I like those sort of things that happen, you can always say you were there at the time and if you take those factors out of the game it could make things pretty boring,” said Ronchi. “Unfortunately for Henry, it’s his demise. We gave him a bit of space afterwards.”
The wicket was reminiscent of former Australian star Andrew Symonds hitting a ball into non-striker Michael Clarke only for it to balloon to a fielder for an easy catch during a one-day international against Sri Lanka.
The cricket world was stunned by Nicholls’ misfortune. A Sky Sports cricket commentator in the UK called it “just incredible” while ex-England captain Nasser Hussain added: “That cannot be. I can’t believe that, I really can’t.”
England Cricket’s official social media account tweeted: “What on earth!?”
England, already 2-0 up against New Zealand and looking to complete a series clean sweep, took three wickets before lunch after losing the toss in seemingly ideal batting conditions, with Stuart Broad striking twice in the absence of injured spearhead and longtime new-ball partner James Anderson.
But the Black Caps, a year to the day since they defeated India in the inaugural World Test Championship final at Southampton, recovered to 5/225 at stumps thanks to an unbroken stand of 102 between the in-form Mitchell and Tom Blundell.
Their third century stand of the series followed alliances worth 195 at Lord’s and 236 at Trent Bridge.
Mitchell will now be eyeing his third hundred of the campaign when he resumes on his overnight 78 not out.
“I think mentally he has just been really positive in what he’s trying to do,” said Ronchi of Mitchell. “He knows his game-style and game-plan, he’s sticking to it and he trusts it.”