Despite star batter and regular captain Kane Williamson being sidelined due to an injury, New Zealand has shown strength in the ongoing ODI World Cup and is in contention to qualify for the semifinals for the fifth time on the trot.
Tom Latham, who led the team in Williamson’s absence, discusses the future of ODI cricket, how the Kiwis prepped for the World Cup, the significance of all-rounders, and the importance of money in an interview with Sportstar.
While Tests endure as the oldest and purest form and T20 is the disruptor, what’s your take on the future of the 50-over format?
One-day cricket is fantastic. It has a little bit of everything — there is a T20 element. But there’s also a hint of Test cricket. With the changing landscape of the game, it’s difficult to predict where the ODI will be in the future. I’m not sure where it is, but we’ll have to wait and see. But I certainly enjoy this format, as I’m sure so do many other guys.
As someone who is a key part of the leadership group, how easy or difficult was it for you to ensure all bases were covered while picking the World Cup team?
When compared to 2019, it’s a reasonably similar squad. There are always changes, whether they are due to conditions or different teams. But, from our perspective, it’s always been about sticking to our blueprint as best we can, which may vary from team to team and country to country depending on the circumstances. But I believe being true to what you want to do as a team makes you more successful.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a bilateral series at home or away or a World Cup. For us, sticking to the style we want to play will hopefully give us a better chance than coming to the World Cup and changing the way we want to play just because it’s a World Cup. That’s something our team has done exceptionally well over the last eight or 10 years.
New Zealand’s consistency and a match-by-match approach, along with extensive tours and a strong A team, have been key to your success in World Cups. Is there a team mantra?
I wouldn’t say there is anything we specifically focus on. Over the last few years, there have been New Zealand-A tours to India. We’ve been fortunate enough to tour these parts of the world, whether here, in Sri Lanka, or Pakistan, so we’ve played in these conditions a lot. Leveraging the experience of players who have played in the IPL at many of these venues is beneficial.
Understanding the conditions has been critical because they are so different from what we have back home. The conditions at the last two World Cups [2015 in Australia-New Zealand and 2019 in England] were similar to what we face at home. It all comes down to planning and preparation.
What have been the biggest takeaways for New Zealand so far?
Regardless of whether you’re winning or losing, I believe there are always things you can improve and do better. If you look at the first few matches, different guys stood up at different points, which is always important in a big tournament.
I like how guys have been proactive in terms of field placement or different ideas from a bowling standpoint. From a batting point of view, we’ve sort of nailed our blueprint reasonably well in terms of how we want to operate, and I think that’s shown in our success initially. In a tournament, I believe you have to move on quickly from game to game and have to take a lot of positives about how you’re performing. If you give yourself a chance and put yourself in the right position, you will hopefully come out on top more often than not.
How important do you think an all-rounder’s role is? You have Mitchell Santner and Daryl Mitchell in your team.
All-rounders even up the balance. We’re fortunate to have a few in our team, which makes things a lot easier. Many teams in this World Cup have a lot of all-rounders, whether they are spinning or seaming all-rounders. It means you can play with an extra batter or bowler, which has always been critical to winning matches.
Speaking of Santner, he has been good at containing the flow of runs. How important is a defensive bowling option in the middle overs?
Mitch has been outstanding. He bowls in the top 10, can bowl through the middle, and has bowled in the last 10. So, while he may appear to be a defensive bowler, he is quite attacking. He can turn the ball on almost any surface. He’s been fantastic throughout this tournament in terms of performance.
He’s played here and been around the IPL for a few years, so he’s familiar with the conditions in these parts of the world. The pressure he’s been able to apply, particularly in the middle stages, has been tremendous, and while he may not have picked up the wickets, the guys at the other end are reaping the benefits. He also serves as a handy finisher and has finished a few games for us. He’s been playing exceptionally well, and hopefully, can continue that.
It appears like the Kookaburra ball is fading a lot quicker. Do you feel that the reverse swing is more of a factor this time than say during the 2011 or the 2015 World Cup?
I believe that throughout a 50-over game in these parts of the world, the ball does deteriorate and becomes softer quicker than before. We also might see this throughout the tournament when there are a few more used surfaces on either side of the wicket where reverse swing might become a factor.
So, whether it be a softer ball or reverse swing, they are all factors guys put into their preparation. You have to try to utilise those factors as much as you can, especially from a bowling point of view. Batting-wise, you should be aware that, with the ball being softer, the middle phases can be challenging.
The focus back home was primarily on the rugby World Cup, which the All Blacks eventually lost in the final. How do you handle it as a team when the spotlight isn’t on you?
It’s pretty cool that a lot of the guys here like rugby. But, from our perspective, we have support at home.
It may not be as visible as the other teams around here, but we get a lot of messages and know that people are rooting for us. But that has never been our primary focus. It’s always been about how we play and collaborate as a group.
You spoke about how playing the IPL has helped players gauge conditions here. What difference does getting a contract for an IPL franchise make?
The IPL is an amazing tournament. Some players have played in it, and some haven’t. I have never played, so looking from an outside point of view, being able to mix with different guys from all over the world, not just Indian players, has probably been a huge thing for the sport, and just finding different ways guys can probably train and play together. It is all about trying to gain as much knowledge as possible.
The country vs club debate continues, with some favouring franchise cricket for its financial stability. How crucial is money to you?
Personally, not to me. You look at other guys; different people will say different things, but obviously, some people go for a lot of money in these franchise tournaments, which is a bonus, but some go for a little less. I suppose everyone has their reasons for playing the game, which may differ from person to person.
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