In a sports ecosystem often dominated by the All Blacks, the New Zealand cricket team has begun to generate considerable buzz among the public ahead of their long home summer. Appreciation of the team's growing will now only rise further after New Zealand claimed a record fifth Test win for the year, in the Boxing Day match against Sri Lanka.
That match was well-attended on all four days, the first of which saw an 8000-strong crowd in full voice, as Brendon McCullum hit a 134-ball 195. The change in the national mood, and the New Zealand's results, has been the result of serious introspection and redirection within the team, captain McCullum said following the victory.
"Eighteen or 24 months ago, when we sat down and worked out where we sat after the 45 against South Africa in Cape Town, we knew we had to make changes - not just internally, but from an external point of view, for the public who cared about this team," McCullum said. "I can only say the guys within the group made those changes. It was essential to all of us that we have the public's support, and the best way to get that is to go out and represent New Zealand with all you've got.
"That's what we've seen over the last 18-24 months: a group of guys who are desperate, enjoy their time playing for this team, and try and make sure their mark on the New Zealand team is substantial. We are starting to see that people are coming back to support this team, and that's nice when you sit back and see where we've come from."
New Zealand have also put together the personnel to form a world-beating side, since coach Mike Hesson has come on board. The seam attack, led by Tim Southee and Trent Boult, has shown exceptional skill, while the middle-order batsmen have also begun to score heavily. McCullum believes this has all this has been underpinned by restraint and prudence.
"Internally, it's a nicely structured team - we've got good support staff. We've got guys who are not necessarily old, but who are very experienced and strong leaders within the group as well, and that's quite a nice dynamic to have. We couple that with quite an emotionally level group of guys who just want to perform for New Zealand, and you see some fighting characteristics come out.
"I firmly believe that the work we've done is now flowing onto the field. We've been lucky that we've had that instant gratification of results going our way, because then it does confirm to you that what you're doing off the field, and the way you carry yourself as a team and as individuals can then relay to results. The way we're operating has been a huge catalyst in our performance, in the respect we're trying to show the game and the people who support this team."
New Zealand have also impressed internationally with their style of play, with McCullum earning a reputation as one of the most aggressive captains in cricket. True to form, in Christchurch he attacked when put into bat on a green pitch, while Sri Lanka were rarely allowed free runs into the outfield, even when they batted well in the second innings. The hosts' fielding standards were typically high throughout the Test and the bowlers rarely seemed flat, despite a heavy workload.
"We want to make sure we're playing aggressive cricket. We want to keep moving the game forward, looking for results. You remember Test wins but you don't necessarily remember draws. You want to achieve special things along the way, and a lot of hard work goes into that.
"We also want to be known as a team of pretty humble guys as well, and are known to respect the game and play it in the right manner. I can't fault any of our guys for the way they go about their performance. They play hard, but they play within the spirit of the game, and the public are starting to endear themselves to that."
While the team takes immense pleasure in their performances as a group, there was also pride in personal achievements as well. McCullum himself became the first New Zealand player ever to make over a 1000 runs in a calendar year during his 195 and he sits fourth on the year's run-getters' list, having played fewer Tests than the top three. Boult and Southee have also had a rich year, claiming 34 and 33 scalps respectively, while BJ Watling has the wicketkeeping record for 2014, with 40 dismissals to his name.
"It's nice when you look at the top ten bowling rankings and you see Trent Boult or Tim Southee's name, and you look at the top ten batting rankings and you see Ross Taylor, and you know Kane Williamson is not far away.
"There are also plenty of guys who may not be up there in the rankings but have had significant performances throughout the year. I'm talking about Neil Wagner in Barbados, Tom Latham in the UAE, Mark Craig has done well in his overseas tours as well - these guys who are making significant contributions."