New Zealand might have cruised to a seven-wicket win
in the end by chasing down 307 in the opening ODI against India in Auckland, but it was only after 89 overs of the game that Tom Latham
swung things in New Zealand's favour with a game-changing over.
Thirty-nine overs into the chase, the home team needed 91 runs from 66 balls with seven wickets left and India would have thought they still had a chance. But Latham tore into Shardul Thakur's eighth over by hammering him for 25 runs with a six and four fours which reduced the equation to a very gettable 66 off 60.
Without a lot of protection in the deep on the leg side, Thakur banged the first four balls into the pitch and they were all dispatched to different parts of the leg-side fence for a six followed by three fours. Thakur then pushed short fine leg to the rope and brought deep third into the circle, pitched one full outside off, and Latham steered this one for a boundary too, between backward point and short third, before reaching his century on the next ball, his 76th. Latham said he wasn't premeditating those shots; he was only reacting to the balls and that's how things unfolded.
"I was just reacting to what was being bowled, it wasn't a conscious effort to try to target that over," Latham told the host broadcaster of that over against Thakur. "When it was slightly shorter, I was trying to use the pace and target those shorter boundaries and I was just trying to react and it paid off."
India captain Shikhar Dhawan also admitted they bowled "too short" to Latham and "that's where he took the game away." On a ground where the square boundaries were short and the straight boundaries even shorter, Latham was fed a lot of short balls and he targeted the area behind square the most, scoring as many as 95 off his 145 in the area, which included all his five sixes and 12 of his 19 fours.
Latham has a prolific record against India, averaging over 65 - his best against any team with a minimum of five innings - with two centuries and five half-centuries. Before you ask Latham himself, ask the Wankhede crowd from five years ago
that watched him and Ross Taylor stitch a partnership of 200 from 80 for 3 - very similar to Friday's 88 for 3 - to chase down 281 comfortably in the end with six wickets in hand.
That night in 2017 was Latham's first innings at No. 5 for New Zealand and he scored an unbeaten 103. He has since then become a mainstay in New Zealand's middle order by accumulating 1723 runs while averaging over 43 and striking at 92.18
. His unbeaten stand of 221 with Kane Williamson on Friday was also Latham's third partnership of 200 or more in ODIs, a feat no other New Zealand batter has achieved.
Latham said the duo aimed to keep the asking rate under eight an over, which they did successfully for most of the chase.
"For me it was about trying and being busy and hit the ball in the gap and run hard and the asking rate was hanging around seven-eight an over and we said if we try and keep it below eight then we can give ourselves a chance at the back end," Latham said. "There was a little bit of turn there from Washington [Sundar] and he bowled really nicely so it was about absorbing that pressure and when you get the scoring opportunity, just try and put them away. Obviously the deeper we took it, you can score quite quickly out here and that's what we did."
Just like that sultry evening in Mumbai, Latham walked out in Auckland at 88 for 3 in the 20th over, he swept and reverse swept the spinners, pulled and flicked the quicks, and punished every error from the India bowling attack - which had only five options on Friday out of which two were making a debut - on his way to his seventh ODI century.
"I'm not really sure where that came from," Latham said of his knock. "Obviously being in the position when I came into bat, just try and absorb a little bit of pressure and take it deep on a ground with some unique dimensions, you can score quite quickly so [we] also managed to build a decent partnership and get across the line which is nice.
"You do your scouting of your bowlers and I've played India a fair bit recently so I have the understanding of what their bowlers are trying to do to me, but also trying to stick to my strengths as well and just play the situations."
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo