For New Zealand, Tom Latham is a keeper. No, not just a wicketkeeper, but someone worth investing in for the long run, because he's soon becoming an asset across formats with varied roles in recent times.
During the course of his match-winning century in the series opener in Mumbai, he demonstrated the ability to adapt in the middle order despite a topsy-turvy 2017.
He started the year with a mere nine ODI runs across five matches at home, leading to him being axed from the XI. However, when New Zealand set off for their next ODI series, in Ireland, Latham was named captain as ten of his team-mates were unavailable due to IPL commitments. Once they returned, Latham did not get a game at the Champions Trophy despite two half-centuries and a century in four innings in Dublin.
Once New Zealand were ousted early from the Champions Trophy, they had to change batting strategies, especially for the challenging India tour. They brought in the hard-hitting Colin Munro to partner Martin Guptill at the top, so that they could collect a handful of runs before the Indian spinners would be summoned. But the middle-order holes were still staring at Mike Hesson, the coach, and Kane Williamson, the captain.
Latham had scored runs while opening in Ireland, but it was decided to move him down the order to add some stability at No. 5, given his experience and preference against spin after the India tour last year.
"I have played in that position (No. 5) before when I started playing for New Zealand," Latham stated in Pune on Tuesday. "So, it's not a position which is unfamiliar to me. It was more of a tactical shift than anything, coming in the middle when the ball is a little bit softer and playing a bit more spin. It is nice that I adapted quickly. It was nice to have those two warm-up games beforehand and contribute in those games and start against spin.
"I think there is always a reason behind it (changes in batting order) and I have been talking to Hess (Mike Hesson) quite closely over the winter in terms of what he wanted, and taking the gloves and batting in the middle overs. I think it's probably more about to be able to recover, in terms of the role that we wanted at the top of the order in terms of our game plans. You have to adapt to the team situation and I'm more than happy to do the middle-order role."
Latham had made his international debut at 19, but was shuffled up and down the order initially. He set about cementing himself as a Test opener by accumulating runs on overseas tours, but limited-overs matches were treating him differently. He started his ODI career batting in the middle order and averaged 24 in his first 25 innings. He became more prolific when he started opening more regularly in 2015, but he was often left out of the playing XIs, including in the last World Cup and this year's Champions Trophy.
What also worked in his favour for the current tour were his wicketkeeping skills. New Zealand had to fill that gap twice in recent times with the retirements of Brendon McCullum in 2016 and Luke Ronchi this June. Once he was among the keeping options for the current tour, Latham underwent specialist keeping training before departing for India. The first test of his skills emerged in the very first ODI when he had to keep wickets in Mumbai's heat and humidity, before coming out to bat in the 13th over.
"It was very hot the other day," Latham stated. "The conditions were the hottest, it was very sweaty and I lost a lot of fluid. I guess that's credit to our fitness training, having the right running programmes and gym programmes in place. The guys have had a winter off, a few months off to build the strengths and fitness back-up. It was nice to go out there and bat and be there till the end even though it was quite hot and exhausting."
Using his familiarity of conditions from the India tour last year, Latham, who has also been in India with New Zealand A in the past, used the sweep and reverse sweeps effectively on Sunday, since his role had changed from seeing off the new ball to batting against the older and softer ball.
"I put a little bit of work in terms of coming over here and playing spin," he said. "One thing for me is the sweep shot that I have always played throughout my career. I probably find it easier doing that than hitting down the ground. The other guys may find it easier hitting down the ground. It's important to adapt to conditions and have a game plan and try and stick to it."
Until New Zealand go back and start their home summer season, Latham's responsibilities are clear. Whether he will go back to opening in ODIs at home or not remains to be seen, but for now, he has exemplified with his gutsy batting and changing duties how he fits into any role that is asked of him. Even when he was not keeping wickets regularly, Latham was often taking catches in the slips or copping blows under the helmet while fielding close to the pitch. In cliched sports lingo, Latham is a true team player.