Last year New Zealand featured in a competitive five-match One-Day International (ODI) series in India. Though they lost series 2-3, but for the most part of it, the Kiwis gave the Indians a run for their money.
This season, as we already know, the Blackcaps are once again coming back to India for six limited-overs games — three ODIs followed by three T20 Internationals — to be played between October 22 and November 7.
It seems the New Zealand camp has picked up a thing or two from their last series in this part of the world and accordingly has decided to make some tactical changes, especially for the ODI leg of the tour.
It is being learnt that the left-hand batsman Tom Latham, who opened the innings for New Zealand in 37 ODIs including in the series in India last year in which he scored 244 runs in five matches at an average of 61, is likely to swap his position. This time keeping his prowess against spinners in mind, the team management wants him to bat in the middle order to tackle the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
The Kiwi coach Mike Hesson mentioned about this possible change at the top order before departing for India. He feels on sub-continental conditions, it is very important to “generate a strike-rate at the top”, before the spinners are introduced into the attack. Thus, it is believed that someone like Colin Munro, George Worker or uncapped Glenn Phillips, who has had a fruitful outing in India with the New Zealand A side, is better suited to partner Martin Guptill at the top than Latham, who has an ODI strike-rate of 80.31.
“It would be fair to say Martin [Guptill] and Tom, although they have had some really good performances individually, they haven’t really clicked at the top and certainly haven’t generated a strike-rate as a pair that we would like,” Hesson, who flew out with nine Blackcaps squad members to India on Thursday, said.
“We’re looking at the two guys who are doing it at the moment [with the A team], Colin Munro and George Worker – guys who have the ability to create a strike rate at the top of the order. The beauty of Colin is he is a boundary hitter. He doesn’t so much adapt to conditions, he plays one way – batting in the middle order can make that difficult, and he has had success since we moved him up in T20s.
“Tom is pushing his case, as someone who can keep and bat in the middle. Certainly, his ability against spin will be critical for that. Tom was probably our best performing batsman 12 months ago in India, in those spin-friendly conditions,” Hesson further added.
Latham, meanwhile, has prior experience of batting down the order as he started his international career in the middle order. The southpaw knows at this position, he needs to adopt with the conditions more and has to bat for a longer period and he is looking for the challenge.
“It is a bit more tactics involved in terms of pacing an innings and trying to see it through to the end. Every situation you come in is slightly different. It’s more a mental shift as opposed to a technical one, and it’s more tactical. It’s about being adaptable. I don’t mind playing spin too much either. I’m looking forward to it,” the 25-year old said.
Furthermore, Messon has also hinted that there are chances of Latham, who taken is wicketkeeper’s gloves following the retirement of Luke Ronchi, being relieved from the job in India. Instead, he is looking to hand over the responsibility to Phillips, who is a full-time keeper. However, he mentioned that the final decision on this will be taken following a discussion with the think-tank of New Zealand A team, which is playing a five-match series against India A these days.
“Glenn’s [Phillips] certainly a wicketkeeper, he has kept for New Zealand Under-19s, he has kept for Auckland in all formats, he played for us in the T20 against South Africa. A very good batsman in his own right and also a developing keeper.
“Tom’s still the most experienced of those keepers, the other three are still developing. But we’ve got some good intel on the ground coming in, and we’ll make a decision on that in the next few days.”
Meanwhile, keeping in sub-continent is not an easy task, especially for a newcomer. So, the question is, whether Kiwi team management is ready to take this risk of trusting someone with this important responsibility, who will be making his ODI debut.
Hesson, who will fill the other six spots in the ODI squad from the New Zealand A team, doesn’t feel that giving chance to an inexperienced keeper against the Indians is a risk.
“I don’t think we will be experimenting. That is not what we will be doing. I think the beauty of the New Zealand A side, is that whoever we select will be up to speed and certainly had some recent experience in those conditions.”
New Zealand will play two warm-up matches in Mumbai before the ODI series. Phillips is expected to keep wickets in those games and based on his performance a final call is likely to be taken regarding this issue.