Replacing Brendon McCullum as New Zealand test cricket captain was a simple decision; filling his place in the batting order slightly more problematic.

McCullum's presence was profound on the New Zealand team during his three years and, if his batting in the middle order always remained a touch hit and miss, largely down to his perpetually aggressive intent, he was still capable of stunning, record-bashing innings.

First dibs on McCullum's No5 spot has gone to Canterbury left-hander Henry Nicholls, who this week is preparing for his seventh test, against India at Kanpur, since his debut against Australia in Wellington last February.

He hasn't set the game on fire, but he's had his moments, enough certainly to encourage coach Mike Hesson to drop a thinly-veiled suggestion this week that Nicholls will be around the national side for the long haul.


Nicholls struck 59 on debut, then prospered as New Zealand folded in the second test against South Africa at Centurion. He had a double of 36 and 76 in testing batting conditions against formidable pacemen Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.

The only other New Zealander to get past 50 in the 204-run defeat was captain Kane Williamson. Nicholls took encouragement from that and is learning from his year in the test game.

"I was really happy to be able to get away to couple of starts against that attack on a tough wicket," he said.

"That's tempered by the result, but I got a bit of confidence from that, a small step forward, but there was something to take from it."

Nicholls, who spent 2012 as a young cricketer with the MCC at Lord's, is averaging 37 from 41 first-class games with Canterbury, hitting four centuries. He's been marked for a while now as an international in the making.

He is, for now, first among equals in a group of players vying for a test spot, including Central Districts' Will Young (average 41.72 from 39 games) and Auckland's assertive lefthander Colin Munro (48.2 from 40).

"I'm doing what I have been for the last four or five years. I'm still looking to improve and develop my game," Nicholls said.

"When I get out to the middle, I just keep it as simple as watching the ball and trusting my instincts."

Nicholls knows India, world No2 and in their own conditions, will be formidable.

"You need to be really clear in your plans. There's likely to be a lot of quality spin and reverse swing. I'll try to find a method I can repeat for a whole days' batting, and find a way to get a big score.

"It might be tempering solid defence [with] not being afraid to counter-attack if they've got a lot of fielders around the bat."

This Indian series could be make or break for opener Martin Guptill, who has been battling for form in the red ball game. Equally, it could be a series which helps Nicholls enhance his longer-term prospects.