Latham nearing match-fitness but New Zealand wary of “little niggles”

New Zealand will take a call on Latham’s inclusion on the eve of the game against Sri Lanka.
New Zealand will take a call on Latham’s inclusion on the eve of the game against Sri Lanka. © Getty
New Zealand are not throwing themselves, shoulder first or otherwise, into boundary cushions in fielding drills ahead of a World Cup game and the absence of serial tub-thumper Brendon McCullum at the helm is just one of the reasons.
Two days out from their opener against Sri Lanka, head coach Gary Stead admitted there were more than a “few little niggles” before segueing into the more mechanical “everyone-plays-with-niggles” narrative.
Even by their standards, New Zealand have had an unusually understated build-up to the tournament, mostly a doing of the FTP scheduling. They last played an ODI series in mid-February, at home against Bangladesh, after which several headliners including Kane Williamson were granted NOCs to play the entirety of the IPL.
Among the few that stayed back and rested, keeper-batsman Tom Latham, suffered a cracked finger playing for New Zealand XI against Australia early this month, forcing him to miss both of the team’s warm-up games this week.
Latham, though, continued to make progress on his recovery trail, working extensively with fielding coach Luke Ronchi on Thursday, with the former Black Caps gloveman gradually increasing his hitting pace through the session to test Latham’s threshold. When he passed that test pain-free, Latham earned himself a hit out in the nets, batting well past everyone else had packed up.
“So far Tom has reached all the milestones that we wanted him to and today was another step in that, I guess taking balls with more heat and stuff on them and making him dive and jump around a little bit more,” Stead said. “We’ll just see how he scrubs up tomorrow morning just to see there are no ill effects, but things are looking more and more positive for him.”Stead confirmed that that, if passed fit, Latham will take the gloves and not be required to play as a pure batsman. Tom Blundell, fresh off a whirlwind hundred against West Indies in the warm-up game, could consequently have to wait a little longer for his ODI debut in a World Cup game.“Tom’s got the sort of injury that he’s [either] right or he’s not. So … broken fingers can happen to anyone at any stage. But he is an honest guy and if he’s not right he’ll tell us and all signs so far is that he’s reached those milestones and we’re happy where he is at, he’s probably slightly ahead of time. So that’s really positive from our perspective.“I think he’ll be fit to do both [bat and keep wickets] if he’s ready. I don’t really like looking at his fingers, I know it’s a bit bent from what happened. But look I’m no doctor but he’s feeling no pain so that’s a good sign. Yeah that’s [Tom Blundell] a discussion point. But it’s likely that we’ll have just the one keeper that will play.”
While Latham’s return to fitness is a boost for the middle-order, New Zealand are keeping a close eye on other little niggles, chiefly that of opener Colin Munro, who is dealing with a foot injury after being hit by a Jasprit Bumrah yorker in the other warm-up. Ross Taylor didn’t push himself during the fielding drill after some hamstring stretches but batted comfortably thereafter.“We have got a few little niggles in the camp that we’re just monitoring at that moment and that may have a bearing on what [playing XI] we go for. Colin got hit on the foot and so we just want to make sure it’s all good. We’ve got a couple of other ones but I mean I hope that’s not going to rule them out. It’s just a little bit early to say.“I think it’s just the factor of coming back together again [after a long break], a little things that get picked up until you start lifting the intensity,” Stead summed up.