It was the final over before tea and Tom Latham was batting on 96 with England captain Joe Root the bowler. The big question was whether Latham will look to get to triple digits or would he just see out the over before the break.
We got the answer on the second delivery as Latham came down the track and gently hit a full toss to the straight boundary to bring up his 11th Test ton. ‘Gently hit’ would actually be an apt way of describing many of the left-handed opener’s shots on Friday. There was confidence afloat in the shots that he played all day, but none of them felt forceful.
Heading into the match, you could have said that Latham had a bit of a weakness against left-arm pacers. He averaged just 15.8 against this bowling technique in the longest format of the game and even in the first Test against England in Mount Maunganui, he was dismissed by Sam Curran. But on Day One of the second Test at Hamilton, he was brilliant against Curran. The England bowler was struggling with his line and Latham was quick to pounce, scoring 26 off just 29 deliveries off his bowling.
In fact, if Latham hadn’t hit that boundary off Root - in all probability - he would have had to wait until Saturday to complete his hundred as rain disrupted play immediately after the tea break. Only three deliveries were possible in the third session due to a heavy downpour.
Latham was well supported by the experienced Ross Taylor who scored a fine half-century. The duo put on a 116-run stand for the third wicket. In fact, Latham and Taylor have been batting well together lately with this being their fifth 50+ partnership in Tests since 2018, from just seven innings.
Earlier, Root had decided to put New Zealand into bat and the visitors got off to a satisfactory start. Stuart Broad removed Blackcaps opener Jeet Raval in just the seventh over, inducing an edge with Root completing the catch at first slip. Raval’s form is a bit of a concern for the hosts, with him having scored only 64 runs in his previous six Tests innings.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson’s stay at the crease didn’t last long for once as Chris Woakes, who returned to the England line-up, caught the outside edge of his bat. Woakes, who came into the match with an away Test bowling strike rate of 120.4, picked two wickets and was very close to securing more.
“England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins. By the barest of all margins,” will forever be etched in the minds of cricket fans all over the world. It was New Zealand commentator Ian Smith who came up with those string of words when his compatriots lost the 2019 World Cup final to England by the boundary rule after a Super Over at Lord’s in July.
Five months on, the two sides are now engaged in a Test series on the other side of the globe. And there were three instances on Day One when you would have thought, once again, of the phrase “barest of margins”. Those occasions occurred during the 28th, 35th and 46th overs of New Zealand’s innings. And all three were to do with the Decision Review System (DRS).
The first one saw Kumar Dharmasena raise his finger to give Latham out leg-before-wicket (LBW). With Woakes bowling from over the wicket, there was always the possibility of the ball pitching outside leg-stump and so it did. But it did by the barest of margins.
The second instance was the most controversial one. Broad struck Taylor right in front of the stumps and it looked so plumb that the England pacer began celebrating even before he appealed. After he was given out, the Kiwi batsman spoke to his partner Latham before signalling for a review. There wasn’t much evidence of an inside edge, but there was a spike when the ball was between bat and pad. Surprisingly, the third umpire Bruce Oxenford found it to be enough evidence to overturn the on field decision. It was probably not the correct call. But Taylor survived. By the barest of margins.
The final instance was quite similar to the first one. It was Woakes to Latham once again, only this time the delivery was a little fuller with the original decision being not out. With New Zealand 140/2, England were understandably desperate for a wicket and they went up for a review. And just like the earlier delivery, the ball had pitched outside leg. Again, by the barest of margins.
Moving into Day Two, with the score reading 173/3, New Zealand will be the happier side and will be hopeful that Latham can build on his unbeaten hundred while they’d expect their lower middle-order to make contributions again. England, on the other hand, will look for some inspiration from one of their pacers as they aim to avoid a repeat of the first Test.