“The Southpaw’s 2019 graph has taken off with a bang and with the current form he is in, it looks to be going only in the upward direction to help New Zealand further scale the heights of success in the coming future”
What if I tell you that there is a downside of watching the grace and flair of the mighty ‘Fab-four’? You will most certainly be surprised. An instinctive reaction from a normal cricket fan which perfectly sums up the career of the hero of this talk. He is a Southpaw from Canterbury, New Zealand. His willow is forged in the old-school class of grit, grind, and perseverance and the ‘popular perception’ is that his game can’t force the pace of the inning at will when it comes to the limited overs cricket. He is Tom Latham who has silently risen through the ranks to become one of the better willow-wielders in the modern-day Test arena.
Now coming back to our opening question, if one takes a look at each of India, Australia, England, and New Zealand Test teams, one will invariably find the batsmen who are silently doing their work, which brings success for their respective teams, and have come to terms with their life under the shadow of the colossal presence of one of the ‘Fab-four’ in their teams. It is also not as if they completely remain under the dark silhouette of their more adored team-mates as their brilliance, sometimes, becomes so glaring that it transcends the horizons of that shadow and when that happens, the world looks up and just adores the abilities of those lesser mortals.
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An apt example would be that of Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian no.3, whose tally of more than 500 runs against Australia played the most important role in India’s historic triumph in the recent series down-under. Following a similar path, another star in Tom Latham is threatening to defy its Sun’s scorching gaze to make the world sit up and notice its ever-increasing shine. In an age where the role of a Test opener has been nothing short of a tight walk over the rope, he simply has been outstanding. He averages 58 as an opener in Tests since the start of 2017 – easily the best among the opening batsmen across the world with David Warner’s 47.03-run average coming a distant second.
Latham’s classical old-school Test game stood out among his peers in the New Zealand domestic circuit and the reward came in the form of a Test call-up against India in February 2014. His Test debut didn’t scratch even the remotest parts of the cricket reportage as his scores of 0 and 29 fell grossly inadequate to turn the gaze of cricketing fraternity towards his blossoming talent. His first shot at glory in the Test circuit came on his next assignment against the Caribbean opponents when he struck three half-centuries in three successive innings to announce his arrival on the Test scene. That was the start of him making one of the two New Zealand Test-opening spots his own.
Since then, Latham’s run tally of 3114 is only bettered by skipper Kane Williamson who has scored in excess of 4000 runs in the given period. Also, Latham’s nine Test hundreds in the process are only second to Williamson who is on the verge of getting his fifteenth (20th overall) Test ton since Latham’s debut. But if we scrutinize the performances since the start of 2017, we will find Latham (who was earlier running behind Williamson) matching his skipper for every run as well as the hundreds scored. By the end of the second day of the first Test against Bangladesh, Latham’s tally of 1437 Test runs since the start of 2017 actually trumps Williamson’s aggregate of 1403 runs while his four Test hundreds are just a shade short of Williamson’s five in the period.
The above discussion concretely establishes Latham as the second-best Test batsman in the New Zealand side but what about his global standing? Even there Latham’s numbers come out with flying colors. As we have seen above, he has the best average of 58 in the world among the openers who have played a minimum of 10 Tests since the start of 2017. Also, his tally of 1276 runs from 24 innings while opening the batting is only bettered by Aiden Markram (1358 runs), Dean Elgar (1886 runs), Dimuth Karunaratne (1954 runs) and Alastair Cook (1415 runs) but all of them have played a minimum of 31 innings as compared to Latham’s 24. His four Test hundreds in the process come second only to Elgar’s tally of six centuries while facing the new-ball menace.
These all are brilliant numbers deserving a lot of accolades and adulation but that has not been the case with Latham. His old-school grinding approach doesn’t have the flamboyance of Williamson which effectively reduces his suitors in the national as well as international fan arena. But he seems to be unfazed about who’s hogging all the limelight as he is quietly focussing (and doing it successfully too) on the task in hand i.e. churning out runs and that too truck-loads of them.
He has already surpassed the 150-run mark thrice in his last three Tests which reflects his penchant for those ‘daddy hundreds’ which more often than not grind the opposition into submission. He is just 26 at the moment and looks to be heading steadily towards the heydays of his career which come with a promise of providing a hefty bout of quality Test-match batting. The Southpaw’s 2019 graph has taken off with a bang and with the current form he is in, it looks to be going only in the upward direction to help New Zealand further scale the heights of success in the coming future.