Style or substance in sport is a merry-go-round topic.

Cricket is a magnet for that debate as enthusiasts chew through endless theories about a game dominated by statistics which at face value do not take into account a sack-load of other variables such as the calibre of opponents, pitch conditions or the all important weather.

A remarkable innings of 31 on a dodgy track seaming treacherously and spinning as well does not look too flash in the runs scored column in an almanack but it may have been gold for the team.

Golf talks about it's not how, it's how many.

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That has applied to New Zealand cricketers such as Andrew Jones or Mark Richardson, men whose style was never found in the MCC coaching manual but who earned an A+ for application when they took guard. They'd pared down their game and nutted out what worked for them and set about achieving that as often as they could.

As test cricket unfurled opening day chapters in Wellington and Ranchi, two batsmen converted supposition into substance.

Both have carried significant praise for their potential but had yet to convince or convert enough in the test arena.

At the Basin, conditions were up against Henry Nicholls as he moved to the wicket with NZ sent in to bat and 21 for three against the snorting inquisition of Morne Morkel, Kagisa Rabada and Vernon Philander.

Nicholls' potential had teased during his previous 12 tests with four half centuries and a recent outing against Bangladesh when he should have knocked off his maiden ton but impatiently fell two runs short.

Coach Mike Hesson and the selectors settled on the left-hander to fill the middle-order vacancy after watching his progress through the grades and measuring that output with all the other details players need to make an impact at test level. Nicholls' technique had some flaws but his temperament was strong as he showed last August in his only previous test against South Africa.

That showed as Nicholls fought through a rugged spell before lunch until the pitch settled and then played decisively to claim his first test ton and keep New Zealand in the game.

It was an innings which confirmed his potential and laid down his future challenges.

It was a similar exercise for Glenn Maxwell in India, the free-wheeling batsman dubbed the Big Show in one-day cricket but seen as the No-Show in tests.

He had an amazing array of flair in his game but struggled to distil that into consistency and the mental grind of test cricket.

He got his chance with the Aussies struggling with injury defections and a crushing second test loss.

Maxwell came to the wicket with the Aussies teetering. He shelved his impetuous instincts and alongside captain Steve Smith, toiled through the ordeal to his highest test score and a stronger recognition of his job description.