The emergence of New Zealand's Tom Latham
Until Brendon McCullum took over as captain of the New Zealand cricket team in 2012, the Black Caps had been meandering towards existence as one of cricket’s highly talented but perennially underperforming sides.
His succession as captain was not smooth, but it was decisive. McCullum moulded the team into a bunch of hard fighters, and eventually, winners. Their unprecedented run to the finals of the World Cup in 2015 underlined their recent acquired status as one of the most competitive sides in international cricket.
With the retirement of their dashing and fearless captain, New Zealand found themselves with a slot that is nearly impossible to fill. Kane Williamson became an able replacement for the leadership role, while Martin Guptill stepped up his game in ODIs to soften the blow of losing McCullum.
Similar to a phase of rebuilding that India went through after the retirement of a few cricketing greats at around the same time, New Zealand are currently only left with Ross Taylor, who has been around for a long time.
Rise through the ranks
At a time when New Zealand’s old guard was close to retirement, Tom Latham made his way into the national team quietly but effectively, much like his batting. Until he made his Test debut in 2014, Latham was used occasionally in ODIs. There was no initial brilliance, but a few solid knocks showed that he was at home in the international arena. At a time when McCullum had given up the wicket-keeping gloves, Latham offered an additional keeping option as well.
Latham arrived in the national team as a flexible player, providing not only the keeping option but also a solid batsman at any spot in the batting order. Until his Test debut, he had played 13 ODIs across two years with only one half-century to show. However, during these matches, he was shuffled up and down the order and never allowed to settle. What was viewed initially as his flexibility almost became his curse.
Latham somehow kept his place in the team as a fringe player in ODIs until he began to open the innings. As a lower order batsman, he neither felt at home coming in to bat late in the innings nor was his technique suited to finishing games. His strengths of technique and patience became the reason for his mediocre performance as a lower or middle order batsman.
Luckily, his talent was noticed and he was promoted to open the innings for New Zealand.
|Batting Position||Matches||Innings||Runs||High Score||Average||Strike Rate||100s||50s|
|3 to 11||21||20||370||48||21.76||73.41||0||0|
|1 or 2||20||20||733||110*||45.81||80.46||1||6|
Solidity at the top
Only in 2014 did Latham really get an opportunity to cement his place in the New Zealand line-up and he made full use of it. He came past the embarrassment of scoring a duck the first time he walked out to bat in Tests, with a 29 in the second innings. With three half-centuries in his next three Test innings, Latham had well and truly arrived on the international stage. These innings came in the West Indies after which the Black Caps travelled to the UAE to play a Test series against Pakistan.
Latham, by then, had assured himself of a place as Test opener and sparkled in the slow and low pitch conditions in the Emirates. He constructed two hard fought centuries in the first two Tests, proving beyond any doubt that he was an opener made for all seasons – an answer to New Zealand’s prayers of a solid and dependable opener in Tests. In the period before Latham arrived, New Zealand had given opportunities to Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford, both of whom could not hold on to the spot.
While he didn’t do too well against Sri Lanka, when they visited the Kiwis for a Test series later that year, his consistent knocks on tours to England and Australia in 2015 answered any doubts about his consistency and value. Late in 2015, Sri Lanka visited again and this time, Latham set right the record by scoring a century. Until then, his record at home was little to talk about, with 6 innings yielding only 114 runs.
In 2016, he took his performances to another level with a second set of back to back centuries in Zimbabwe. However, faced with South Africa’s world-class bowling attack, Latham came up short. He managed a paltry 8 runs in three innings which included a duck. This was the first away Test series that Latham had truly failed in. He didn’t have to wait long to prove his detractors wrong because soon, he found himself in India – another country he was touring for the first time.