Indian spinners have always proved themselves to be nemesis for the visiting teams in familiar home conditions over the years. Opposition batsmen have found it very difficult to deal with their wizardry and they have been one of the main reasons for India’s overwhelming success at home. More often than not, the Indian spinners have always emerged out on top of the opposition batsmen and have made them dance to their tunes.
However, on Sunday, the kiwi Southpaw Tom Latham produced an innings which was by far the best ODI innings by a visiting batsman in India in recent times and one that rendered the Indian spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav ineffective with his style of play and shot selection.
The 25-year old batsman walked out to bat at a time when New Zealand were 80/3 and required 200 more runs to win the first ODI of the three match series at Mumbai. Kuldeep had already broken the backbone of the Kiwis by sending Kane Williamson back to the pavilion. In such circumstances, the Kiwis needed someone to step up with a good showing against the spinners who had played an instrumental role in India’s previous couple of series victories against Sri Lanka and Australia. And Latham changed the complexion of the match completely once he arrived at the crease.
Before the tour, the New Zealand think tank had revealed their plan to push Latham down to No 5 in the batting order from his usual opening slot. The idea was to deal with the wrath of the Indian spinners with their best bet in Latham, who was unarguably the best player of spin in the kiwi side. Moreover, it also generated a left hand-right hand combination with either of Williamson or Ross Taylor who batted at No 3 and 4 respectively. So, the idea was to unsettle the Indian spinners and to not let them gain any sort of momentum in a match.
“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 Mike Hesson had said before the series at started.
Latham had turned out to be New Zealand’s best batsmen in their previous tour to the country a year ago as he had scored 244 runs in five ODIs at an average of 61 while opening the innings. His prowess against spin bowling came to the fore in that tour a year back and the Kiwi think tank didn’t hesitate to push him down the order.
The result was there for the showing as he helped New Zealand to victory in the very first ODI of the series itself with a scintillating knock of an unbeaten 103 off just 102 deliveries. The most fascinating part of his innings was the way he played and tamed the spinners.
A couple of weeks back, Chahal and Kuldeep were tearing apart the Aussie batting line up with their spin and guile. It looked like it would be the same once Kuldeep dismissed Williamson. However, Latham had other ideas as he unveiled his wide range of sweeps, lap sweeps and reverse sweeps to unsettle their line and length.
The southpaw played those shots with immaculate accuracy and precision without leaving an inch for mistake that would allow the spin duo to get India back in the match. Whenever they pitched the ball on a good length, Latham swept with his long reach of the willow. And whenever the pitched it further up and a bit fuller, Latham unveiled the lap sweep to just guide it down the fine leg and rotate the strike. And at times he unleashed the reverse sweep as well that caught the Indian spinners completely off-guard.
In this way, he negated any sort of threat that spin offered on that pitch and continuously kept taking the Kiwis to a safer position as the match progressed. He didn’t even need to use his feet against the spinners and showed that in order to succeed against spin in India use of feet is not that necessary. The Indian batsmen are generally quick on their feet but batsmen from other teams are not so much. So, Latham showed a completely different and successful way to counter the spinners for visiting teams.
Taylor, his senior partner at the other end, was struggling against the spinners and already had a couple of close calls. However, once Latham arrived, Taylor became calmer and just started playing according to the merit of the deliveries instead of playing any fancy shots. It seemed like Latham had a calming influence on Taylor, who is way senior to him in terms of experience. However, the 25-year old left-handed batsman showed his modesty at the post-match presentation as he said that a senior player like Taylor’s presence at the other end made things easy for him.
“The biggest thing is communication, and we were talking regularly between overs. Ross had a calming influence as a senior player,” Latham said on his partnership with Taylor.
With that innings on Sunday, he also showed his stamina and tremendous temperament as a player. To play that long an innings after keeping for 50 overs in those hot and humid conditions is no child’s play. Yet, Latham did it without a fuss and got his team over the line along with Taylor, who also played a good hand with 96 runs to his name.
“It was pretty humid out there. Keeping for 50 overs and then batting is pretty tough. Conditions back home are pretty different, so nice to see it through,” Latham said in the post-match presentation ceremony.
It was more of a mental shift for Latham than a technical one. One can always play his shots after seeing off a few deliveries while opening the innings. However, playing in the middle order requires immense patience, concentration and temperament. Batsmen need to rotate the strike more often than hitting boundaries. It’s about pacing the innings in the right way in order to set up a platform for other batsmen to finish things off smoothly in the slog overs.
“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 much either. I’m looking forward to it,” the southpaw had said about his new role in the middle order before the start of the series.
Both Latham and New Zealand would be happy that it turned out well and that too in a superb manner. They are now 1-0 up in the series with two matches to go. Another victor in the next ODI would mean curtains for the Indian team and celebration for the Kiwis. And Latham would be the main reason for their success without any doubt.
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