Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Colin de Grandhomme may be New Zealand’s fresh batting stars but veterans Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor remain the key to the Kiwis ending their Test drought in Australia.
Tom Latham is not exactly a household name in Australia, unlike Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor or Lockie Ferguson.
He’s 27 years old, is currently playing in his 47th Test and is vice-captain of both New Zealand’s Test and ODI teams. He’s averaging 44.35 and has scored 11 Test hundreds in 81 innings. These are very good numbers, especially for an opener in the current era, when there are plenty of top quality fast bowlers.
Do these figures justify Australia being especially wary of him?
Latham’s last ten innings have been 264 not out, 10, 176, 161, 4, 30, 45, 154, 8 and 105. That’s 957 runs, including five centuries, at an average of 106.33. And all of this has happened since December last year.
This left-hander is particularly strong off his legs but also plays very straight. In his most recent innings against England, he played some excellent drives through midwicket, but also in the arc between mid off and mid on. He looked totally at ease and showed great balance.
He also seemed to have so much time to play the ball against an attack that included Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes. And like all good openers, he knows when to play and when to leave the ball.
Latham has previously played in Australia back in 2015. He made double figures in all six innings of that series, but didn’t really go on with it, only totaling 187 runs at an average just over 31. Importantly though, he played at both Brisbane and the WACA, so he has a fair idea about the pace and bounce in Australian wickets.
In saying that, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the quicker, bouncier pitches in Australia this time round. The ten innings previously mentioned have all be played on relatively low, slow pitches, either in New Zealand or in Sri Lanka. That should take nothing away from his run-scoring feats, but it leaves a question mark over how he will cope with a rampaging Australia fast-bowling attack.
The Australian fast bowlers have had great success, both in England and in the recent Pakistan series, by bowling on a length and aiming to hit the top of off stump. That may not be the best tactic against Latham, given his ability to drive the ball and play off his pads.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Australia bowling a little shorter to Latham, forcing him to play off the back foot where he’s not quite so comfortable.
It’s also likely the Aussie quicks will come around the wicket and fire a few in at his pads. Yes, he is very strong in this area but has also been out LBW 18 times and in his most recent innings he was bowled by Chris Broad, who came around the wicket and got one to angle back in – shades of David Warner in the Ashes.
It would be easy for Australia to focus on players like Kane Williamson, BJ Watling and Ross Taylor and almost forget about players like Tom Latham. It would be a serious mistake to do that. Latham is in great touch and has anchored the Black Caps innings on more than occasion, as his numbers suggest.
The duel between Latham and the Australian fast bowlers – playing in Perth, under lights – could be one of the highlights of this summer.
A quality opening batsman against a quality fast bowling attack – that contest should be a beauty.