Rod Latham: A Dead Ball Icon

A very bad photo of a photo of Rodney Terry Latham.

A very bad photo of a photo of Rodney Terry Latham.

You know a player looms larger in your mind than the nation’s collective consciousness when you’re not able to find a single image of them online. When googling him In fact, you swiftly come into contact with the author of a book called High Voltage Vacuum Insulation: A New Perspective, which is currently ranked 675,201st in Amazon’s bestseller list. So he’s not the most famous cricketer we’ve produced. And looking over the international career of Rodney Terry Latham statistically it seems difficult to imagine what generated the warmth you feel for him.

The batting all-rounder played 33 one dayers, with a poor average of 20, a worse strike rate of 57 and a dismal high score of 60. As a bowler he sent down a mere 450 balls in ODIs, at an unspectacular 35.09 and going for more than five an over, not brilliant for the era. He was scarcely more impressive in his four tests, his sole century coming in New Zealand’s first-ever test against Zimbabwe, a match Wisden describes cheerily as “a listless draw”, and the almanack could find no more ringing praise for his efforts than this: “the stocky Latham nevertheless proceeded to his maiden Test hundred.”

Fairly unremarkable, huh? But that summation from the cricketer’s bible contains the seeds of what provoked one of my first cricketing epiphanies. I was 13 during the summer of ’92-’93, and attended what must have been my second or third cricket match (growing up in London, for some reason, I never went to Lords). It had all the makings of a classic.

New Zealand and Australia were tied at 2-2 in the five match series heading into the decider at Eden Park. If you were looking for a hero going into the game, there were plenty of likely candidates. Australia had a phenomenal batting line up at the time, with the Waugh twins, Boon, Border, Dean Jones and Mark Taylor all present and correct. New Zealand were pretty impressive at the time too, with Greatbatch, Crowe, Rutherford, Andrew Jones and a young all rounder named Jeff Wilson all turning out for the Black Caps.

Few would have paid much attention to Rod Latham; certainly not Australia, batting first on an Eden Park wicket which had seen some big scores run up and chased down on it during the previous summer’s World Cup. But at some point, probably out of despair, with Australia cruising at 2/140-odd, Crowe chucked Latham the ball, and everything changed. I remember this vividly, because I simply could not believe this guy was playing international cricket.

A very bad photo of Rod Latham's midriff, at full stretch, so you know it's flattering.

Rod Latham's mid-section and hips.

Because Wisden‘s description of Latham as stocky, was, if anything, charitable. The guy was fat, to put it bluntly, in a way that cricketers are the last international sportsmen (aside from the occasional golfer) that can be. Australia had its share of big units too, particularly Boon, but Latham was different. Boon had legends written about him, Latham was a toiler who might have been 10th picked if he was lucky. But today, for whatever reason, something clicked.

He got Mark Waugh out in his first over, as I recall, for a pretty splendid 83. This was hilarious enough, that such an imperious strokemaker as M Waugh should fall to this innocuous trundler. Latham was in pace and style a forerunner of the Nathan Astle-type bowler, one that was to become a mainstay of our cricket for the next decade, and remains visible today in Ryder (a player who, physically at least, carries Latham’s memory with him). But he wasn’t done yet.

He chipped out Boon, then shortly after had Border in the pavillion, and Australia’s seemingly effortless charge to a total of real substance was in jeopardy. Before long he had Steve Waugh and Dodemaide (who?) too, and he’d taken five straight wickets, and single-handedly put this match within reach, as Australia eventually limped through to 232 off their 50 overs.

It wasn’t to be. After Latham, in his day job as an opening bat, had been dismissed for a typically pedestrian 22 off 48 balls we lost wickets just regularly enough to keep the result within reach, but never to be comfortable. New Zealand ended up falling agonisingly short, at 229/8, with Larsen and Pringle unable to turn their 50 partnership into a victory.

I remember the match as a classic, and in the absence of any available literature to contradict me that will have to pass for truth. Latham played many fine innings at first class level, including a savage 237 not out against ND, so I shouldn’t slight him. But for me that one magical bowling spell was a moment when a fairly ordinary international cricketer (and fullback – how?! – for Canterbury’s provincial rugby side) stood up and blazed into the memories of all who saw the game. It’s exactly the kind of improbable scenario that makes sport so attractive. Even if we couldn’t quite get over the line.

– Duncan

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20 Comments

Filed under Cricket, Dead Ball Icons

20 responses to “Rod Latham: A Dead Ball Icon

  1. richard

    i remember that bowling spell too. it was amazing. latham literally just rolled the arm over (gently) when he bowled.

  2. grader

    Yeah he was a legend, and definately fatter than those ‘photos’ show. I randomly went to his mothers house several times while working in Chch. She had some lovely photos of a young Rod. Shame he never quite replicated his Canterbury form for New Zealand. And I’m still baffled he wasn’t a prop.

  3. There was a prop named Rod Latham doing the rounds in England I think, and an early version of this had conflated the two. But then I started reading the season summaries on Canterbury Rugby’s website (I take this thing seriously, dammit), and saw Latham being credited for drop goals and tries, very unproplike behaviour, particularly in the early ’80s.
    I must say I think it’s fantastic that Christchurch remains the kind of village where a young man can just turn up on the doorstep of his sporting heroes’ mum’s house and be welcomed in for tea and reminiscing.

  4. mylalife

    Apparently you could do it to Colin Meads too. Just turn up, say hello, get kicked in the pants for not being manly enough. So its not only Christchurch.
    Rod Latham was my hero. And now that Google Images is apparently our collective memory he has been erased. Very sad.

  5. deadball

    I have very sketchy memories of being at Lancaster Park in the early 90’s, watching the (champion) Canterbury cricket team play NSW – I’m not sure why they were playing… anway, Latham spent the bulk of his innings on one knee, blasting everything over cow corner. The Hadlee Stand end of the old embankment was peppered all afternoon. A great innings, and I don’t recall him taking any singles… But the memory is sketchy.
    – Justin

  6. Tom

    From what I recall as a 10 year old it was Latham getting Tom Moody c&b in the 1992 Benson & Hedges World Cup (man I miss well named trophies and tournaments) opener that really kicked things off for him. It’s amazing looking through the scores that in the whole tournament he only had one score worth remembering, scored slowly, got dropped at yet is remembered as a punishing opening batsman. Maybe it was because as part of the totally stacked Canterbury tems of the early 90s, when people still cared about the Shell Cup (anyone else at the 91-92 final against Wellington, still one of the best cricket games I’ve ever seen?) and that his big moments were in big games that he is remembered more fondly than the numbers would warrant.

  7. richard

    is the 91-92 final the one where gavin larsen came in and batted with one arm?

  8. Bruce

    I played rugby against Rock’n Rod for many years as a junior. Rod was a ‘substantial’ player even then. I hated him because at the tender age of 12 -13 he was kicking 40 metre penalty goals and conversions from the sideline. He kept his only average Linwood Club, and Linwood High School 1st XV sides in matches and frequently beat our flamboyant and skill-enriched Burnside teams by kicking penalties and carving off huge distances with his big punts. But the day that will burn bright in infamy was when he kicked me flush in the plums when I was playing 1/2 back for Burnside at under 14 level. As if he were lining up a huge 50 metre penalty he felled me like I had been struck with an axe. Not for me a visit to the dressing room to be stitched up, I was scraped off the floor as if I was liquid. Buck wouldn’t have walked away from that one!
    Rod was a player with a boot and he knew how to use it. Other than that, he trundled around the field as he did on the cricket pitch. I was overseas through his Canterbury Rugby tenure. He was, I can only assume Robbie’s understudy at fullback.

  9. Tom

    @ Richard. It was indeed, Cairns bowled the last over with Wellington only needing about 4 to win I think, took an early single but Larsen couldn’t get off strike for the last deliveries. Scoresheet: http://www.blackcaps.co.nz/archive/seasons.aspx

    Look at that Canterbury team, Astle at 10 and about 5 CBHS old boys. Only one who never played for NZ was Peter Kennedy but he took one of the greatest catches I’ve seen to dismiss big hitting Richard Reid, shot would’ve gone for 6 otherwise which by istelf would’ve won the game. Asked afterwards about it, Kennedy said that he gave it everything to take the catch as he was out of position ‘cos he was giving his phone number to a young lady in the crowd. Class!

  10. And you know that he got action out of that phone number. Damn guys, extremely high quality recollections. It’s a beautiful thing.
    Also, I forgot to thank the Bogle family for the loan of the DB Cricket Annuals whose Latham photographs I massacred above. Without them this post would’ve been even worse!

  11. Adam

    A truly wonderful cricket blog for those interested:
    http://www.kingcricket.co.uk

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  16. ED

    From my recollection – and it would go with your evidence for drop goals and penalties – I think was actually first five for Canterbury during the 80’s. But then, I only cared about cricket then, so that may be wrong.

    My favourite memory of Rod (apart from the catch mentioned above, where Rod hovered above the ground for what seemed like an age, like a Soviet ground effect plane, mesmerising yet cumbersome) was at Lancaster Park, as it should forever be known. It was sometime in the mid-to-late 90’s, at a testimonial match for Chris Harris and Chris Cairns, who, even though they were still in the national team, and would be for sometime, were being celebrated for 10 years playing for Canterbury. We were in the old number 1 stand (or at least the stand on the east side) and there weren’t a huge number of people there. So few, that when Rod came out to bat, we could heckle him (we were teenage boys) and he could hear us out in the middle. Rod had been retired for sometime, in which he had enhanced his rotundness to some degree. We were riffing on his tubular appearance for a while, before he managed to get hold of a shorter delivery, which he successfully pulled out in our direction. Four. After watching it hit the hoardings, he turned towards us and slowly raised his chubby-gloved middle finger.

    We stopped heckling him after that.

  17. There’s a good picture of Rod/girth in Chris Harris’ biography. I could scan it and send it to you?

    Also, Peter Kennedy is my second cousin. His career ended with a car crash in Holland where he was injured (I think his back). He was awesome at family bbqs though. After getting a bit wasted he was real funny aye.

  18. Dan

    Tom, you’re damned right. I was there, along with half of Christchurch it seemed. When was the last time a domestic match packed out a major stadium liked that? In the early 90s (while NZ were sucking internationally) Canterbury cricket could do no wrong, with Germon behind the stumps (is his record off one over stll in the Guiness Book?) Latham and Hartland regularly knocking up century opening stands and embryonic world class players like Astle, Cains, Fleming, McMillan coming through the ranks like rabbits. Kennedy’s catch remains one of my all time favourites. Incredible times to watch cricket. Sigh.

  19. Meme

    “and a dismal high score of 60”

    Might want to rewrite that what with the way the team is performing right now. 😉

  20. Meme

    Gawd, I didn’t take any notice of when people last answered this site just pleased to see one about Rod Latham!

    “I remember the match as a classic, and in the absence of any available literature to contradict me that will have to pass for truth.”

    If that was Allan Border’s last game in NZ before he retired then I was there as well. The reason NZ was so close to winning is that there was a no ball bowled in the last over (which was given) but we weren’t bowled the extra ball, umpire called the over after six. The crowd was like “WTF?”

    I remember Border giving a speech afterwards in the good old days when you were allowed on the pitch to listen to it.

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