Winds of change blew over Wellington on the third day as Tom Latham became only the second New Zealand opener to make a century at the Basin Reserve since 1931. His 119 slashed the deficit down to 305 and though he spent all but one hour of play at the batting crease no one learnt anything new about him. That, in itself, was remarkable.
Latham has always been strong on the cut and the flick – 83 of his runs came behind the wicket. He succeeds by playing the ball late, and close to the body. Most of all, his ability to bat on and on, without feeling flustered by scoreboard pressure, without allowing his concentration to be upset was on show again. While wondering how to describe the innings, it was hard not to imagine Latham as a jukebox and one of his fans taking full control of it for the entire day.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, were like that person who becomes the life of the party for the first time. They began on 542 for 7, batting through the first hour when they could easily have cracked on and bowled. They had had a taste of the limelight and didn’t want to give it up. Then again, considering one of their bowlers picked up a wicket off his first ball of the match and another on Test debut – not to mention playing his first first-class match in four years – dismissed one of the best batsman in the world when he was well set, they earned the right to live it up a bit.
Taskin Ahmed and long-form cricket have been on break since 2013. It was just too demanding and his body just couldn’t keep up, a flag as red as any to a budding relationship. Many have tried to rekindle the fire and on Saturday they could all sit back and say, “we helped do that.” The 21-year old fast bowler could have picked up a wicket in his first over but he had a catch dropped in the slips. He suffered further, conceding 10 fours in his 15 overs but eventually, he found the edge again and Kane Williamson, having just got to fifty, was walking back. Taskin had hit the jackpot as far as maiden Test wickets were concerned and a smile as poignant as the tears he shed upon receiving his Bangladesh cap from bowling coach Courtney Walsh indicated he knew it too.
New Zealand, for their part, made sure the bowlers had to produce moments of brilliance to earn their wickets. The pitch was flat, it had perhaps gotten a bit quicker as well after two days in the sun, meaning there was little danger in hitting the ball through the line. That fact was best represented by the middle session’s numbers: 121 runs in 25 overs at 5.24 per over. Ross Taylor, back in the New Zealand team after eye surgery and whacking the ball so beautifully that there was no question of his form being affected by the break. One of the few times he mistimed a shot – perhaps it was the first time – he was caught at midwicket for 40 off 51.
New Zealand’s rush for runs was instigated by their captain. It was unclear whether Williamson was venting against the fact that he had captained the team into giving away their second-biggest total – 595 for 8 – after inserting the opposition but he did begin his innings with a flurry of boundaries. There were three in four balls – a punch through mid-off, a flick through square leg and a glide past gully, all of the back foot.
Confirmation that Williamson was indeed going on a cathartic rant came in the 22nd over. For one, it was set off by a perfectly innocuous thing – a back of a length delivery on fourth stump. For another, he went to a great deal of effort to make his point, leaping up off his toes to get on top of the bounce while still somehow keeping the bat face straight. That poor red Kookaburra was so scared that it went and hid at the point boundary. Most of his runs came off the back foot, but when he was asked to come forward to a good length delivery just outside off stump in the 34th over, he feathered an edge through to stand-in wicketkeeper Imrul Kayes. The regular man behind the stumps, the Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim had injured his fingers taking blows to the hand while batting yesterday and did not take the field. Vice-captain Tamim Iqbal led the side in his absence.
Latham’s innings was the library to Williamson’s theme park. There were neat little glides behind point and deft little flicks through square led and midwicket. He frustrated the opposition with leaves and looked the perfect man for the rest of the line-up to bat around. Jeet Raval, though, couldn’t quite pull off that mandate. He was given a life in the 10th over when Shakib Al Hasan shelled a catch at third slip, but the next time he nicked a ball behind the wicket, courtesy Kamrul Islam Rabbi’s extra bounce, he was gone. But not before New Zealand had recorded the second instance of fifty-plus stands for their first four wickets. Latham was involved in all of them.
He was excellent against Mehedi Hasan’s off spin, a result of his picking the length early, moving forward or back decisively. The 19-year old had taken the new ball – making it the first instance that a specialist spinner had opened the bowling in the first innings of a Test in New Zealand – but struggled to keep his rhythm in conditions – read the wind – that he had never faced before. The other man playing his first Test abroad fared better. Sabbir Rahman completed a half-century before Bangladesh took the opportunity to declare their innings – something they had only done twice in past tours.