Cricket's first-class season starts today, although you could be forgiven for not knowing that.

The emphasis in cricket planning these days is so heavily accented towards T20, and protecting that item, that first-class games are almost seen as, well, second class.

"Come along, kids, fancy watching some Plunket Shield cricket?" is not exactly a stirring entreaty. Kids pulling Dad out the door to a T20 game is a much more likely scenario.

The early stages of this season are messy too. The Plunket Shield, rather than being run in the easy-to-follow blocks of three, keeping the six provinces occupied on the same objective at the same time, starts with one game today, Canterbury hosting Otago, with another tomorrow, Central Districts playing Wellington.


Auckland needed a later start to build in their Champions League commitments in South Africa, so they're not beginning until next Sunday in Napier.

The HRV Cup begins next Friday night, with Northern Districts hosting Otago in Hamilton, and continues, one game at a time, until Boxing Day. There is a game scheduled each Friday night throughout the competition. But it's fiddly.

ND will have played four, and Wellington three of their 10 round-robin games before Auckland have even played their second. A more even-handed treatment of the teams would be preferable. Then again, you can't get everything, and Friday night televised games were deemed a key determinant by New Zealand Cricket.

The second point was having most of the 20-over competition contested around the Christmas-New Year-early January period, to capitalise on holidaying spectators.

The one downside this season is that the scheduling of the cup clashes directly with New Zealand's tour of South Africa. This is unfortunate, if unavoidable. If you want points one and two, you have to live without point three is the nub of it.

The New Zealand schedule calls for the T20 matches first, followed by the tests, with the ODI component finishing the trip. That will take out several players required for the short form games for two chunks of the competition, about December 16-30, and again from roughly January 13.

NZC, a couple of summers ago, took the view, after polling the provincial bosses, that the most important factor was not getting high-priced, big name imports out for the cup; it was having New Zealand's finest players going toe to toe - Taylor vs Southee, or McCullum vs Vettori - to get turnstiles clicking.

There won't be much of that this season due to the South African trip.

The Plunket Shield is in two blocks: today through to December 20, dovetailing with the 20-over competition, and again from January 24 until February 23, whereupon the one segment of the summer constructed on unfettered lines is the Ford Trophy 50-over competition. It runs from February 26 to the final on March 30. Clean and simple.