New Zealand cricket fans will receive the first portion of a shrinking ration of Test cricket when the Black Caps play the West Indies in the first of two Test matches at the Basin Reserve starting Friday. The New Zealand team will play only four Tests at home this summer — two against the West Indies over the next two weeks and two against England in March in a season otherwise heavy with one-day and Twenty20 Internationals.
The shape of New Zealand's home series against the West Indies, Pakistan and England provides a glimpse of the new landscape of international cricket in which Test matches, despite the advent of the new Test Championship, are receding into the background. In future, most tours will look like the current one by the West Indies, with only two Test matches, three one-day and three T20 Internationals.
The Test Championship has been instituted in part to address what the International Cricket Council sees as the sliding popularity of test cricket by ensuring that while fewer Tests will be played, each match will be invested with greater significance. The ICC is also moving towards a trial of four-day Tests against the traditional five-day matches in a more fast-paced world.
But many players and fans, who see test cricket as the premier form of the game, oppose changes which they believe endanger test cricket and devalue its more than 140 years of tradition.
Addressing the recent Conclave of the Delhi and District Cricket Association, India captain Virat Kohli said: "I believe test cricket is paramount for the game to sustain globally."
The ICC has said the establishment of the Test Championship is an effort to ensure the survival of test cricket in the 21st century by giving "context" to every match.
"Whether we can resurrect the interest in countries where the interest in test cricket has fallen away is what we're trying to hopefully achieve," ICC chief executive Dave Richardson said. "In the foreseeable future, I'm very hopeful that test cricket will survive."
New Zealand Cricket has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Test Championship and of the new structure of tours with their ration of two tests. It has said Test cricket is becoming financially unsustainable.
But those who see Test cricket as endangered can point out that the impending test between New Zealand and the West Indies is not the biggest cricket story in New Zealand this week. It has been eclipsed by the arrival in Christchurch on Wednesday of suspended England cricketer Ben Stokes, to play for Canterbury in New Zealand's domestic one-day championship.
Stokes will play his first match for Canterbury on Sunday.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson was forced to address that issue Wednesday, endorsing Stokes' selection ahead of the more pressing issues for his team which will face the West Indies without wicketkeeper B.J. Watling, who is injured, and senior fast bowler Tim Southee, who is awaiting the birth of his second child.
In Wellington, there has been little sign a test match is about to take place — no advertising on radio, television or in newspapers, no posters or billboards.
Fine weather is forecast and come Saturday and Sunday the grassy banks of the Basin Reserve will likely be full of cricket fans, enjoying this small ration of Test match play.
It may have to sustain them for some time.