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Having crushed South Africa by an innings and 276 runs inside three days last week and followed that up with the Halberg Award for Team of the Year on Wednesday night in Auckland, New Zealand go into the second Test of the series riding a high. But stand-in captain Tom Latham refuses to be carried away: he knows how important collecting maximum points from this series is, if New Zealand are to have any chance of defending their World Test Championship (WTC) crown.
The team could not make it to the Halberg Awards, which recognise the top performers in New Zealand sport, as they prepared for a match that begins tomorrow in Christchurch. But, representing them at the event was their injured full-time captain, Kane Williamson, who also picked up Sportsman of the Year.
Latham said the team was hugely pleased to receive the honour, and proud of Williamson for his own award, and they would all celebrate together when the time came, but for now the focus remained on "picking up WTC points".
"It's very special to have that recognition for the year, but for us it was over a [longer] period of time to win that Test Championship," Latham said at the pre-match media briefing. "It's not just the team, it's the wider network of New Zealand Cricket. We're all trying to push for the same thing and to have that recognition was really special.
"[As for Willimason], the quality player he is, we've seen that day in and day out, and for him to get that recognition is very special - not only for his play, but also as a leader and a person as well. We will certainly celebrate with him when we get a chance to."
New Zealand currently sit at No. 6 on the WTC points table, with 46.66 percentage points from five matches. Their chances of making the final in 2023 took a hit with the defeat to Bangladesh in Mount Maunganui, but they have followed that up with two innings wins. After this, they have away series in England and Pakistan lined up, so Latham is keen to maximise home advantage.
"On the whole for us it's about the WTC and you get as many points as possible," he said. "Points at home are really vital. Nowadays in international cricket it's so hard to win away from home, so points in your own country are really important."
Anything short of defeat in Christchurch would seal New Zealand's first-ever Test series triumph over South Africa, but they will not be playing for the draw. "Yeah, if you look back a few years ago, where you know this wasn't the case," Latham said. "We had series which, if you won 1-0 then that was cool. But I guess nowadays the context that the WTC has had has been great for Test cricket and it just shows that you need to win every game, and that will be our challenge tomorrow."
Williamson's elbow 'progressing quite well'
Williamson, who last played competitive cricket in November last year and has since been undergoing rehab for a long-standing elbow injury, provided an update on his condition after picking up his Halberg Award. "It's improving, it's been a bit of a long slog," Williamson said, according to New Zealand Herald. "Hopefully this time [off] gives it what it needs, it will be nice to put it behind me.
"It does seem to be progressing quite well - in the last small period my batting load has started to increase quite a bit more, it's looking positive."
This was the second time Williamson picked up Sportsman of the Year at the Halbergs. He'd done so in 2015 as well, one of two cricketers to win the award since the turn of the century - former captain Brendon McCullum had bagged the award in 2014. The Team of the Year award went to the cricket team for the first time since 1999.