After their thumping 2-0 series sweep over West Indies, New Zealand have strengthened their chances of making to the final of the World Test Championship. But while Tom Latham, who captained them in the second Test in the absence of Kane Williamson, is excited about that "possibility", he wants the side to look too far ahead and focus on the upcoming Pakistan series - which begins on Friday with three T20Is, followed by two Tests - instead.
New Zealand (62.5%) are currently third on the WTC points table - behind Australia (82.2%) and India (75.0%). If they beat Pakistan by 2-0 as well, they will be pushing India to face favourites Australia at Lord's next year. What has worked in New Zealand's favour is they play Pakistan at home as well, and wouldn't be travelling to Bangladesh anymore due to the Covid-19-enforced schedule rejig.
"I guess that's the way with the schedule of the Test Championship at the moment," Latham said after the win in the second Test against West Indies. "In our conditions, we certainly know how to play in these conditions which is great. Whatever team we face with, we are certainly willing to learn on the back of previous performances. Looking forward to Pakistan in a week's time - a new opposition, different challenges, so it's important to adapt.
"At the moment, we will enjoy this victory and then we will shift [focus] to Pakistan. I think the beauty of this group is we focus on each game at a time, each series at a time. When you look too far ahead, sometimes you can get caught a little bit. So our focus will shift to Pakistan and then whatever happens post that, then we will access. The goal at the start of the Test Championship was to get to the final, and if we play well and give ourselves a chance, that may be a possibility."
Just like coach Gary Stead did after the first Test, Latham called the side's performance "clinical" as New Zealand wrapped up the second Test on the fourth morning to register their second successive innings victory. He also said that playing Plunket Shield at the start of the domestic season helped the players to get into the groove for Test cricket.
"Clinical is probably the word to use again, I think," Latham said. "The way we were able to set the game up here, in the Wellington with the bat, on the back of Henry's [Nicholls] innings was outstanding. Put in to bat first, putting up 460 on the board was outstanding. We talk about from the batting point of view is that your first innings score is a big one and in these conditions, to put a score like that on the board was great and on the back of that, we were able to do the job with the ball. To put in a team to bat twice in two Test matches was not going to be easy for the bowlers in terms of the demands on their body but they kept coming time and time again and did the job with the ball yesterday and today, which was outstanding. So yeah, I think clinical is probably a good word to use.
"I think we are lucky we start our first-class season with four rounds of Plunket Shield, which is great for the guys to get into that mode of the longer form of the game. A fine testament to the guys who came back from the IPL, the way they were able to quickly adapt to this format. I think nowadays in international cricket, you need the ability to adapt as quickly as possible whatever that format may be. The way they were able to adapt to this format was great. The guys will shift quickly to T20s in a few days' time and then we will have to shift back to the red-ball stuff. So, yeah, the ability to shift back and forth is vitally important in international cricket nowadays."
In both Tests, New Zealand went in with a four-pronged pace attack with Kyle Jamieson joining the tried-and-tested trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner. Jamieson finished the series as the second-highest wicket-taker with 11 strikes from two outings. In the first Test, he also scored his maiden Test half-century. His all-round performance meant he was named Player of the Series.
"His contribution was outstanding," Latham said. "In the short Test career he has had so far, he has come and had success straightaway. He is a guy who is always willing to learn, always willing to pick the brains of other guys in the group, which is outstanding. And to continuously learn and to come back this year with a few new skills is a testament to himself and he thoroughly deserves to be the Player of the Series.
"I think his record probably says it [that he is an allrounder] and if he is able to do that with ball and bat which is great for our side. He has obviously done it with the ball initially, and then the performance he put on with the bat in the first Test was great and for us, if we are able to have contributions down the order, as many as possible, that's obviously great. As I said, he is a guy who is willing to learn, willing to put in the yards in the training and I am sure he will keep continuing to work hard on that aspect of his game too."