TOM Latham was barely out of nappies when his father Rod pulled on a Black Cap for the last time, the youngster more focused on learning to walk and talk than on his dad’s performances as a doughty top-order batsman.
However, the genes have been passed on to the Saltires overseas recruit – along with pearls of wisdom acquired during 37 appearances in New Zealand’s colours, writes Mark Woods.
“I can’t remember him playing,” Latham says. “But he’s obviously been a good influence over the last couple of seasons. He’s not really hands-on. He doesn’t give me coaching tips. But, if I want to have a word about cricket, he’s someone I can rely on when I need to.”
Now 21, just 16 months have passed since Latham followed his father’s footsteps into the New Zealand side, completing a rapid rise through the ranks at Canterbury and an apprenticeship with the Black Caps’ under-19 squad. In 11 senior appearances, Latham showed promise but failed to prove his case for a call-up for this summer’s Champions Trophy. Which is why, while his compatriots are squaring off against England in Cardiff today, he will be at the Riverside, playing as Scotland’s imported help in their Yorkshire Bank 40 encounter against Durham.
The alternative assignment is an unusual arrangement. Unlike previous overseas players, Latham has based himself south of the Border, only joining up with Scotland as and when required. “It’s been a little hard,” he says. “But you just have to get over it. I’ve now got about a week with the side so that will be good to get to know the boys and fit more into the camp.”
Three games in five days – with the Scots also visiting Lancashire and Derbyshire this week – will give both parties time to forge more than a passing acquaintance. It will also give Latham an opportunity to improve on the lowly haul of just three runs he provided on his debut at Essex two weeks ago.
The scores will come, he promises (or hopes). Honing his craft was the principal reason he opted out of a Kiwi winter to come across the world to broaden his experience on and off the field. “I just want to develop my game,” he says. “Obviously, you’re expected to score runs. But I won’t let that pressure stop me. You just have to go out and play a natural game and when it happens, it happens. And, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If you can help the side out, and pull out a match-winning performance, that’s the main goal.”
A Saltires stint has done others no harm, most notably George Bailey, currently Australia’s depute captain. It can serve as a finishing school for those, such as Latham, who have been tipped for great things. At Canterbury, he became the provincial club’s youngest-ever captain, a distinction once held by his own father, when he stood in for regular skipper Peter Fulton for a Plunket Shield clash last December.
It was an unexpected twist. “But I really enjoyed it,” says Latham. “It was strange early on with the Twenty20s. But I felt I grew into the role before I handed it back. It’s something I’d like to do more of in the future. And the quicker I can build that kind of experience, the better it’s going to be for me going forward.”
He would dearly love to return home with his reputation enhanced and his form pressing his case for a Test debut. Yet this trip, he hopes, will not be all work and little play. A golfing tour (he plays off 12 “give or take”) is planned as a means to travel around Scotland. “I’m hoping to get to the Open,” he says, “but I’d like to get a few rounds in.”
Low scores in golf, high scores in cricket, he trusts. With the Scots looking for their first YB40 victory this summer, a decent total would be welcome. “Three games on the trot will be good in terms of getting a rhythm,” he says. “Obviously the goal is to get the win.” Something, surely, to write home about.