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New Zealand continue to build Test reputation

"We are pretty kind of understated people. We are good blokes really aren't we? We Kiwis," said New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum flashing a brief smile after the win in the Sharjah Test.

The worn out baggy black Test cap was back on McCullum's head, after it had been hung on the bats as a mark of respect to the late Australian batsman Phillip Hughes. The smile was the only time McCullum showed a side of himself that had deserted him in the past few days.

The Test match was won, but McCullum was still emotionally worn out following the demise of Hughes. The win had still not sunk in for him as he felt "pretty empty".

But even in these trying times, what did not go unnoticed was that New Zealand had continued to make rapid strides as a Test team. The side may have only moved to seventh place in the ICC Test rankings, but that does not tell the full story.

Since the time the side was shot out for 45 in January 2013 by South Africa, New Zealand has gone about slowly but surely rebuilding the line-up for Test cricket. McCullum revealed the kind of effort that was put in behind the scenes to "get the attitude right".

"From the low of being bowled out for 45 against South Africa, we can only go up," said McCullum. "What that allowed us to do was strip things right back to what was important to us, how we wanted to be known as a team, how the country wanted us to play, the traits that they wanted to see from the New Zealand team. We got our characteristics right. We have got a culture which is desperate to represent New Zealand and perform well during the time that we have (as a player)."

The "desperation" to do well for the country has resulted in New Zealand not losing a Test series since they were beaten 0-2 by England away in June 2013. Since drawing 0-0 away in Bangladesh in 2013-14, New Zealand have beaten West Indies both home (2-0) and away (2-1), got the better of India at home (1-0) and have now shared a three-Test series in the UAE 1-1 against Pakistan.

In the last 11 Test matches, New Zealand have registered six wins and have suffered just two losses to signify their rise as a Test side.

"(We wanted to be) The team that never gives up and if they do get beaten, it's very hard to beat (them). We have gone about trying to put guys in different positions. Mark's (Craig) a classic case in point. And he's been able to come in and prosper in an environment which is allowing him to settle."

The biggest plus has been that New Zealand's batting has delivered regularly in the past year. The man leading the charge has been McCullum himself, but he prefers to give the credit to the rest of the line-up. The bowling, led by Tim Southee and Trent Boult, has also been a big factor in the team's performances.

"We have obviously got Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor and also Tom Latham the way that he is performing. We are starting to get big hundreds as a team, we are starting to put some runs on the board which is allowing not only our dynamic seam attack but also our spinners to come into the game."

McCullum seems to be revelling in his role as a captain. He has already scored three double-hundreds in this calendar year, thereby joining the likes of Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Don Bradman. It has been a year when McCullum has not just endured the responsibility of being captain, but also has taken upon himself the mantle of being the opener. The culture of the team though matters more to McCullum than anything else.

"I love being able to see some of the guys emerge and I get real buzz out of that. I guess as a captain, as a leader you have got to be performing as well. I am enjoying being able to make those kind of contributions, tick off milestones along the way. For me it's about making contributions to the team, especially when the team goes on to win."

New Zealand's rise also gained praise from Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who said he believed McCullum's team can now win anywhere in the world.

"I think especially the way Brendon McCullum is performing, that's the key for them," Misbah said. "They have (also) got a really good bowling side, especially Tim Southee and Boult. In these sort of conditions, even the way they were bowling with the new ball and then (using) reverse swing, that's the key for them. Now they have (also) found two good spinners (Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig) who can really bowl well in these sort of conditions."

The rebuilding process for New Zealand in Test cricket has happened without the presence of their premier spinner, Daniel Vettori. The left-armer had been away from Test cricket and was only drafted at the last minute for the Sharjah Test. McCullum acknowledged that it was "tough" not having Vettori in the side.

But from afar Vettori has watched the side grow in stature. "I think it's a very settled team and a very balanced side," Vettori said. "The team's extremely well led by Brendon. It's really exciting coming into the group and seeing him (McCullum) lead and be able to play with him. He is a special guy and a special leader. The guys really feed off that."

McCullum though remained modest about the achievements of 2014. "We have still got a long way to go. We certainly don't want to get too carried away with our performances. But it is nice to be able to look back at times and reflect on some performances which have been positive."