Back to the nets for Tom Latham as selectors declare '100 per cent faith' in struggling Black Caps test opener
Just as some were sitting down at their office desks on a Monday morning, Tom Latham was having cricket balls fired at him by Craig McMillan at the Basin Reserve.
The scheduled fifth day of the second test against South Africa signalled back to work for Latham, New Zealand's struggling opener who got the selectors' backing in an unchanged squad for Saturday's third test in Hamilton.
In a batting lineup which capitulated for 171 on Saturday, Latham's run drought provoked the most comment as his run of low international scores extended to seven.
Both innings in Wellington, Latham pushed at the bouncy Morne Morkel angling across and edged to the cordon, after also being caught behind in Dunedin. It adds up to 24 runs from three innings, with two knocks remaining in the home season at Seddon Park for the man tipped as an obvious Black Caps captain-in-waiting.
Clearly Latham is low on confidence but selector Gavin Larsen, after meeting with coach Mike Hesson who remained hotel-bound with a stomach bug, insisted dropping Latham was never an option.
"We have 100 per cent faith in Tom Latham. He's a classy player, he's a great individual and part of our leadership team. He's in a rut, no doubt about that, and he's battling a bit with his form," Larsen said.
"His numbers speak for themselves. If you sit down and analyse what he's achieved in red ball cricket, it's excellent. We believe he's got the character and work ethic to work his way out of this little rut."
At just 24, Latham averages 38.6 in test cricket with six centuries, including his highest score of 177 just two months ago against Bangladesh in Wellington. It's a record few New Zealand test openers can match.
Larsen also pointed to a lack of genuine contenders hammering at the selection door.
In Plunket Shield, Otago's Brad Wilson (592 runs at 49.3) and Wellington's Luke Woodcock (531 at 53.1) are the top two runscorers, but throwing either opener in against South Africa's quicks at Latham's expense has little to recommend it. "There aren't a lot of openers shooting the lights out," Larsen said.
Batting coach McMillan was down at the nets with Latham soon after 9am and their one on one session focused on Latham's plan against Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada all angling across him, with the extra bounce from Morkel in particular.
The feeling is, if Latham can leave well in the mould of opening partner Jeet Raval and survive the respective new ball spells he can push through his slump.
"It's about him getting back to basics. One of his decisions was poor, to drive when it wasn't full enough to drive, and he acknowledged that. We need to get him back to making those good decisions and everything else will flow from there," McMillan said.
"When you're playing the good sides, they give you less balls to hit and bowl a lot more good balls you have to defend and they make life more difficult. They challenge a whole lot of areas and if you're not bang on 100 per cent, one mistake can be enough to be fatal.
"Other days you get away with it, that's just the life of being a test batsman. All our guys need to be true and disciplined to their gameplan and if they do that they will be successful."
TOM LATHAM'S TROUBLES
Tests against South Africa: 10, 8 and 6
ODIs against South Africa: 0, 2 and 0
ODIs against Australia: 7 and 0