It's not how Tom Latham pictured making his test debut for New Zealand, but he will certainly take it.
With Ross Taylor's second child seemingly in no hurry to arrive, Latham, 21, looks certain to pad up at No 5 for New Zealand against India in tomorrow's second test on another Basin Reserve greentop.
"It is a tricky one but I've got to prepare myself to play," said Latham, who will remain on tenterhooks until later today.
Taylor remained at home in Hamilton since New Zealand's 40-run win over India in the first test on Sunday. His and wife Victoria's second child, a boy, is due this weekend and if there is no progress later today then Taylor will stay home on paternity leave and Latham will be confirmed in the New Zealand XI. Captain Brendon McCullum will likely shuffle up to four.
The left-handed Latham, who began for Canterbury in the middle order but was pitted against Hamish Rutherford for the test opener's spot against England a year ago, deserved his callup on weight of runs.
In just six Plunket Shield matches this season he is the second-highest runscorer with 687 at 68.70, including an unbeaten 241 against Wellington at Karori Park in December.
Latham debuted for New Zealand as a 19-year-old, in an ODI against Zimbabwe in Dunedin, but took time to find his feet. After 11 ODI innings without a half-century, his breakthrough knock was 86 off 68 balls in the rain-shortened win over Sri Lanka in Hambantota in November.
"It was nice to score runs and let yourself know that you can do it at that level. I know in the games afterwards I certainly felt more confident," he said.
Latham was unfazed whether he opens or bats in the middle order. With Rutherford and Peter Fulton both under pressure after a recent lack of test runs, and a tour of West Indies beckoning in May, Latham's most likely path into the team is as an opener, which he did in age-grade cricket.
"Playing for New Zealand is always a dream, whether that's opening or in the middle order, I'll take anywhere."
Latham watched parts of the gripping first test in Auckland where India's pacemen got their team back in the contest by skittling New Zealand for 105. He'd faced the rapid Mohammed Shami before, when he toured with India A, and noted his debut innings might be a testing one in pace-friendly conditions at the Basin.
Curator Brett Sipthorpe's test pitch was still hard to distinguish from the outfield yesterday after he vowed to keep as much grass on as possible, to aid pace and bounce and suit the home side.
Senior New Zealand paceman Tim Southee liked what he saw, as the Black Caps shoot for four consecutive test wins. That roll began when New Zealand beat West Indies by an innings and 73 runs at the Basin in December when Trent Boult swung the ball around corners.
"It'll be interesting to see what it [pitch] is like in a couple of days but the bowlers will have a spring in their steps looking at it," Southee said.
A green pitch which looks unlikely to aid spin makes allrounder Jimmy Neesham a likely inclusion, too, at Ish Sodhi's expense.
The weather forecast is good for the first three days, and Southee said it was a goal to keep India winless on their tour. He, Boult and eight-wicket standout Neil Wagner took all 20 Indian wickets in Auckland, and they hoped for a lack of gusty Wellington wind to help the ball swing.
"The way we bowled as a group, we kept the pressure on and bowled in partnerships and the wickets were shared around by the three of us. It shows we never gave them a let up.
"They're quality players and you have to up your game and it becomes a game of patience and who folds first."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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