Before the Indian series, if anybody was asked about which Kiwi batsman would hold the key during the series, the names of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor or Martin Guptill might have popped up. But the man who stood up and nearly took them to a series win was the unheralded Tom Latham, playing a new role in the middle-order courtesy his ability to play spin.
Even given the fine series he had last year, Tom Latham has been a revelation. Very fine young cricketer.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) October 29, 2017
The left-handed Latham was always used as an opener by the Kiwi thinktank but his ability to play spin well, which he demonstrated quite obviously when the Black Caps touched Indian shores in 2016, prompted Mike Hesson to push Latham to the middle-order behind Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor.
The purpose of the move was four-fold:
1. It would enable the Kiwis to push Colin Munro to the top of the order and counter-attack the relentless pair of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. In two of the three games, this ploy worked as Munro took the opening bowlers to the cleaners.
2. Latham could now move to middle-order and tackle the outstanding Indian spinners, who had Australian, Lankan and England batsmen in all sorts of trouble. He did this with aplomb employing the sweep shot to great effects against the tight Indian spinners.
3. The New Zealand lower middle-order lacked experience and Latham moving down would ensure that they had an experienced hand amidst a slew of newbies.
4. The conditions in India can be sapping and for a keeper to keep fifty overs and then come out to bat immediately can be tiring at times. By freeing up Latham from opener duties, New Zealand had him fresh as a cucumber for the middle-overs.
The southpaw averages 42.90 in 2017 with two hundreds and 472 runs in 12 ODIs, a rather large deviation from his numbers last year. Interestingly, Latham has been woeful as a batsman when playing as the designated wicket-keeper. Before this series, in ODIs, as a keeper, Latham has played eight times and averages 6.50 in these games.
However, in three games in India, as designated wicket-keeper, Latham made 206 runs at an average of 103.00 including a match-winning hundred. His half-century at Kanpur in the series decider nearly helped New Zealand win their first ODI series in India. Sadly, though, the wicket-keeper batsman ran himself out with 30 still needed from the last three overs.
While we celebrate India pls spare a thought for Tom Latham! Boy he can bat.
To bat like that under pressure top stuff. Was great from NZ.
— Boria Majumdar (@BoriaMajumdar) October 29, 2017
His biggest weapon against the spinners was the sweep shot. The newly anointed middle-order batsman employed the shot quite often during the three-match series and had immense success in disturbing the lines of the Kiwi bowlers.
“One thing that comes to me is sweep that I have played throughout my career. Its something that I find easier to play than hitting down the ground”, Latham had said after his match-winning hundred in the first ODI. “The other guys may find hitting down the ground easier. It’s important to have different game plans for different conditions and try and stick to that.”
Latham swept and then took Ross Taylor’s advice and reverse swept the Indian wrist spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. All of a sudden, the duo who had looked invincible during the Australian series, were struggling to contain the run flow.
Anyone who plays sweep shot better than Tom Latham? #indvnz
— Aashish Poudel (@AsisPdl07) October 29, 2017
Latham was quick on his feet and used it to disrupt the rhythm of the bowlers while rocking back to cut or sweep every now and then. His strategy against the spinners was set in stone the moment he entered the country. A half-century and a century in the warm-up games confirmed that his plan was working and he followed it up with one set of each in the three ODIs.
“I am not too sure (about the secret to success). We had a lot of preparation back home, coming out of the winter, when we come to India, it is obviously massive focus on spin and we (were) lucky enough to be here last year, so we knew a little bit how India played and watching them against the Australian team, so lot of work in terms of spin and playing in the middle. I put little bit of work in terms of coming over here and playing spin. On surfaces back home they were a little bit drier and quite responsive to spin. So, that was (a part) of the preparation,” the 25-year old had said.
Although a move made to counter a specific threat, Latham’s success in the new role might prompt the selectors to give him a longer run in the middle-order. With Glenn Philips, the lone back-up wicket-keeper, being untested, New Zealand would be keen to see Latham don a dual role at least until Philips finds his feet.