“The textbook sweeps and cover-drives were sparse but not absent and as he got to the much-awaited triple-figure mark, his relief and the silent joy in finally knowing that he belonged could not be missed”
It took Tom Latham 20 innings and 23 months to raise his bat, soak in the adulation and play a dogged knock that can well be the highlight of his Test career. After his marathon 177 at Wellington against Bangladesh last year, runs were hard to come by for the Canterbury player, as he saw only four half-centuries in a period where New Zealand cricket emerged as mighty challengers in the format. With Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor more often than not steering the ship, the rest of the batting unit appeared mere fill-ons, and it needed an innings like the one that was on display at the Basin Reserve to change the perception.
For most parts of the day, it did appear that Latham would be the support act to yet another batting masterclass from skipper Williamson. On a track that had dried out perfectly after the hint of swing and seam on Day 1, the no. 3 player got going almost immediately, scoring a 93-ball 91. He seemed to continue from where he had left off in UAE, in which he had made a fine hundred on a track that was crumbling like powder. He flashed his repertoire of shots against the relatively mild Sri Lankan bowlers, looked to punch every full length ball and played the back-foot strokes with elan. Even as Williamson was heading towards his 20th Test century, which he was eventually unable to breach after he swept part-timer Dhananjaya de Silva, Latham at the other end was a sedate self, soldiering on silently.
He managed to wade through Suranga Lakmal’s late inswing bowling with tight technique. Eager to not play any loose deliveries that had led to his downfall in UAE, where he had managed just 99 runs in 6 innings, he was an image of teeth-grinding concentration and patience to end the day at 121 not out after batting through 84 overs. It not only wore down the Sri Lankan bowlers but also broke their spirit, which was already at a low after Latham first survived early in the innings – jabbing a late inswinger from Lakmal to an absent short leg – and then saw a tight LBW decision go against their favour after lunch.
Also read: Let’s not ignore Tom Latham’s contributions
As the bowlers went about the motion sans much of an impact, openers Jeet Raval and Latham cashed in to score 59 runs for the first wicket – of which the former scored 43. The latter was intent to establish himself at the crease, taking 123 runs to reach his half-century, which came after nine innings. Lahiru Kumara was lively at times, but without much seam movement and with minimal swing, they stuck to bowling short, which was astutely defended away by Latham.
He clipped away balls that were on length around middle and leg stump, played the bouncer well and took his chances against a wide outside off delivery by stretching for it and sending the balls to covers. He got under sharp short balls that were bowled with pace and blunted a 144.8kph delivery by Kumara by playing it to cover. The four off a Rajitha delivery, in which Latham leaned in forward after transferring his weight to the front foot was struck with excellent timing and the flick off the same bowler after he reached his fifty was sent away after he middled the bat with class.
The textbook sweeps and cover-drives were sparse but not absent and as he got to the much-awaited triple-figure mark, his relief and the silent joy in finally knowing that he belonged could not be missed. He will have the opportunity of taking his innings forward on Day 3 and if he is able to bat the Lankans out of the game, he can emphatically rise away from the shadows of New Zealand’s two war-horses, much like Henry Nicholls had done in UAE.