In this current New Zealand team, Tom Latham has established himself as a compact batsman alongside captain Kane Williamson when it comes to tackling spinners. In this era of stroke players, the southpaw has an old-school approach to his batting, and it helps him measure the slow bowlers efficiently. Last year, when the Black Caps went down 2-3 in the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series against Virat Kohli and company, Latham was by far their best batsman, scoring 244 runs in five innings at an average of 61 while opening the innings.
However when New Zealand commence yet another ODI series in India when they take on the hosts at the Wankhede on Sunday, Latham won’t be batting at his usual position. Instead, he is expected to take the No 5 slot — where Latham started his ODI career from back in 2012.
Following their middle-order woes in the Champions Trophy, Mike Hesson, the Black Caps coach, has decided to make this strategic change in the batting order. He dropped Neil Broom and Jimmy Neesham and pushed Latham down the order, promoting Colin Munro to the opener’s role.
Hesson believes on sub-continental wickets, it is very important to “generate a strike-rate at the top”, before the spinners are introduced into the attack. Thus, alongside Martin Guptill, they need someone like Munro or young George Worker, who can utilise the first powerplay.
On hindsight, it is also crucial to maintain a healthy strike-rate in the middle overs, especially against the slow bowlers, which always has been a tough ask for any non-subcontinental team in this part of the world. Furthermore, the Kiwi think-tank understands that if they want to have any hope of toppling the in-form hosts in the upcoming three-match series, they have to keep India’s new spin sensations Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav at bay.
Presently, the left-handed Latham is the best available option for New Zealand to do this job, thanks to his expertise against spin and past success in India.
“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,” the New Zealand coach recently mentioned.
Latham at No 5 will provide some sort of relief to Williamson and Ross Taylor, who are expected to bat at No 3 and 4 respectively. The left-right combination in the middle order will make life tougher for the Kuldeep-Chahal pair as they have to constantly adjust their lines, which can be an advantage for the visitors. In fact, the left-hander will act as a shield to the New Zealand middle order. He has probably been instructed to manoeuvre the slow bowlers while other stroke-makers can play their attacking game around him.
The strategy, meanwhile, has worked so far on this tour as Latham, batting in the middle order, scored 59 and 108 in the two warm-up fixtures against a spin-heavy Indian Board President's XI bowling attack. Interestingly, while making that ton, he maintained a strike-rate of 111.34.
However, for the 25-year old, who has opened 37 times out of his 57 ODI innings, this sudden move to the middle order is more of a “mental shift”. Unlike batting in the powerplay where he eyes to add momentum to the innings, here adaptability is the key as he needs to look for the gaps for those ones and twos. Against the versatile Indian attack, it is going to be challenging. But Latham knows what he’s up against.
“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 southpaw recently mentioned talking about his new role.
If this strategy of moving Latham to the middle order works for New Zealand on this tour, then they will be far more equipped to win their maiden ODI series in India.