The onus goes on Henry Nicholls to fulfil his cricketing promise in New Zealand's three-test series against South Africa.

Nicholls has been backed by selectors Mike Hesson and Gavin Larsen to continue at No.5 after scores of 53, four not out and 98 against Bangladesh in January. He has played one first-class match since, making 34 and 71 not out for Canterbury against Wellington last week at the Basin Reserve.

The 25-year-old showed grit against the Proteas' pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada at Centurion in August with 36 and 76; those 112 runs provided the highest aggregate in the New Zealand team. However, Luke Ronchi replaced him in India because he was perceived as a better player of spin. Nicholls contributed one and 24 at No.3 as a late replacement for an ill Kane Williamson in Kolkata.

This series is Nicholls' chance to convince he belongs after 11 tests. He averages 31.33 from 17 innings, including four half centuries.

Advertisement

The left-hander has constructed rather than cemented a case for inclusion.

If Nicholls seeks motivation, he need look no further than South African coach Russell Domingo's reaction when asked if he had "raised a glass" to Martin Guptill's absence from New Zealand's test squad in the wake of his 180 from 138 balls in the fourth ODI at Hamilton.

"That's one of the best one-day hundreds I've seen... his ball striking was phenomenal," Domingo said.

"Look, I know his test record's not as good as you'd hope for, but I'm glad he's not playing. He's a hell of a player. A team without Martin Guptill is... I don't know, I probably shouldn't say... I'd have thought he'd be in the team at some stage.

"You always feel you can bowl to the rest of the guys, whereas he [Guptill] can attack straight away. Kane [Williamson] is going to try to get himself in, Ross [Taylor] will do the same. Whereas Martin can take you apart from ball one."

Guptill is the populist's choice at No.5, despite having not played any regular cricket in the position for years.

Hesson repeated the selectors' rationale on Guptill on Thursday after he averaged 28.93 in a 16-test opening stint from May 2015 to October 2016.

"Martin and I have talked about test cricket a lot and we certainly gave batting at the top of the order a fairly good crack. The middle order is something we are keen to explore at the first-class level first. Martin and Auckland are receptive to that, which is great.

"At the moment it's difficult to find a spot. Our test team has won four on the bounce and the middle order is performing well."

The selectors have stayed loyal to Nicholls. He needs to repay them.