Although the Player of the match for the Green Park Test went to Shreyas Iyer, Tom Latham‘s effort was no less impressive. Divy Tripathi looks at why this performance was merely the opener reassuring us that all is well with his game.
Despite efforts made to uncover it, there is no one obvious way to figure the exact age at which a Test batter most thrives. While Ricky Ponting had his golden run from his late 20s to early 30s, Sachin Tendulkar had a temporary dip (by his own high standards) at the same age. Nonetheless this is a precarious period, for while a few bad games doesn’t necessarily mean anything in the longer run and players can always bounce back when they are at the peak of their physical abilities, if the run gets extended, questions can start doing the rounds.
While Latham hasn’t experienced any massive drop in form, his wicket being as precious as his captain’s, his recent numbers don’t live up to the figures he put up from the start of 2017 until November 2019. In that period, he was the best Test opener in terms of average in the world (minimum five Tests) beating the likes David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Dean Elgar, and Dimuth Karunaratne.
His average in that period was 56.75, whereas since November 2019 to the eve of the Kanpur Test, Latham’s average was 32.22. Now, it would be incorrect to say that Latham had lost his way in that period. Either side of that period, he has played great knocks. There were twin fifties against India in 2020, a century against England, and a 95 in Australia.
However as is evident from above numbers, his run has slowed down a bit over the last couple of years.
One of the reasons for the same is that Latham hasn’t done well in England and Australia. He averages 30.33 in the former, while it drops to 26.08 in the latter. He averaged 21 in the 2019/20 Trans-Tasman trophy and 29.33 against England earlier this year. Some of his numbers from the earlier (2017-19) period in reference have also been boosted by games against weaker bowling line-ups, but this in no way means that Latham isn’t a class player.
The fact that he found the going tough on occasions against challenging opponents does not mean that he lacks the skill to perform well. During New Zealand’s UAE tour against Pakistan, Latham scored 282 runs at 58.4, including two hundreds. This was a massive performance against a Pakistan team which was enjoying a very strong run in the UAE.
In the 2016/17 tour of India, Latham gave a good account of himself, averaging 32.33 in a tough series for New Zealand.
This week, he gave a more determined performance, one which played a role in saving the Test for his team. His presence for long stretches denied the India spinners, and led to increased frustration for the bowling side. He looked comfortable taking on the India bowlers, with tactful employment of sweep, good feet movement and a robust game-plan.
These 147 runs might have meant a lot to Latham. He saved a Test, but also brought his best Test performance since that Colombo game. With an average of over 40 at home, and in Asia, Latham continues to be one of the finest openers of the day. There will still be the those who point to his numbers in the Anglo-Australian conditions, but it is that age which comes to Latham’s rescue.
In 2003/04, a 30-year-old India batter overcame his previous disastrous showing (an average of 15.5 in the 1999/00 season), to slay the goliath. Tom Latham has the technique, temperament, and most importantly, the time on his side to continue churning runs across conditions.