All your questions answered ahead of a meagre 2017-18 test season.
Q. Why are there only four tests this season?
T Bolt, Mt Maunganui
A. You must have missed the memo. The 2017-18 season is all about building white-ball capacity ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Q. Haven't we got the 2018 off-season and the 2018-19 on-season to do that?
T Southsea, Maungakaramea
A. Not exactly. The 2018-19 home season will be all about building capacity for the World T20 in 2020. It's extremely important to get ahead of the curve for these type of tournaments. You saw what happened when New Zealand fell behind the curve at the Champions Trophy this year, didn't you?
Q. I honestly have no memory of that tournament.
K Willemson, Tauranga
A. Not really a question, but I see your point. My memories are also foggy due to time zone issues. What I can say is Pakistan won and they won because they were ahead of the curve. As an aside, they are here for almost all of January – annual leave month – and haven't bothered to pack their whites.
Q. A mate told me it was because players were just too damn lazy to play tests, that they're not willing to piss blood for the jersey?
A. On the contrary, real cricketers love tests. It's how they measure themselves. Players like Colin Munro have eschewed lucrative opportunities to be a T20 global freelancer because they hold on to their test dreams, however misguided. Being loyal contractors to the national body none are going to say so too forthrightly, but a lot of current internationals, including white-ball specialists, were disappointed with the schedule.
Q. Will the Eden Park test against England will confirm day-night cricket's crowd appeal?
D Leggat, Parnell
A. Yes, I suspect so. With just a few people rattling around in her concrete stands, the old lady of New Zealand stadia looks at her ill-shaped worst during tests but those evening sessions will probably attract a few thousand more than usual. There could be something approaching atmosphere. It'll be a pyrrhic victory though.
Q. Oh really, why?
S Doole, Hamilton
A. The cricket will be awful under lights. Don't ask me to explain the science – the complicated moisture-to-air-to-pink lacquer ratios – because I'd just be making it up, but my gut tells me this will be an absolute lottery of a test and there could be sessions where the bowling is near unplayable.
Q. Your responses seem to be quite negative so far. Are your knickers in a twist?
Dave Whyte, Grafton
A. Not so much twisted as tight. Test cricket has never been as compelling as it is right now. It's never felt like such an important antidote to the instagratification generation. Yes, it desperately needs some context but I hate (and hate is a strong word) seeing it so obviously demeaned and minimalised. England are here and play just two tests, one of which could be a farce... you cannot tell me that the 2017-18 scheduling has the best interests of the sport at heart.
Q. Despite these misgivings, how do you think the home side will go?
M Hessian, St Clair
A. Quite well actually. The West Indies seem to be on a gentle upwards trajectory but a fresh Southee-Boult-Wagner attack will be too much (unless they pick one of those Kookaburras that refuses to swing) in Wellington. As for Seddon Park, the Windies have played there twice and made second innings scores of 103 and 97 on their way to eight- and nine-wicket defeats. There's a good chance a thoroughly dispirited England side will land here but you can flip a coin for the Eden Park test. Hagley Oval should give a better indication of the two sides' merits.
Q. Are there any spots up for grabs in the team?
G Larson, Onslow
A. Allow me a bit of room to open the shoulders here, Mr Larson, because the short answer is there should be but it's difficult to see how there can be with the way this season is structured. Red-ball cricket is effectively shut down until the fag-end of the season, so although some of incumbents should be on notice it's hard to see fringe players on a diet of domestic short-form cricket getting a look-in.
Injury permitting, the following players should be locks for all four tests this season: Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Trent Boult. Their records and seniority dictate this.
Close behind are Neil Wagner and Tim Southee. The are three reasons either could possibly miss a test. One, if a pitch shapes as a raging turner they could decide on two specialist spinners. This was the rationale behind dropping Southee for the test against South Africa in Dunedin – a move that caused some ill will in the camp (though evidently the man himself handled it like a pro). Two, the selectors might wish to introduce raw pace in the form of either Adam Milne or Lockie Ferguson. It's unlikely they'll want four pace bowlers and a tail that starts at No 8, so four into three won't go. The third reason is the impending birth of a child, which just happens to be the reason Ferguson has been brought in as Southee's cover for Friday's opening test of the summer.
Jeet Raval and Mitchell Santner have, you suspect, a relatively long leash but each faces a challenge this season. Raval needs to play the defining, three-figure knock he has threatened in his first seven tests. He averages just south of 45, so his place is under no imminent threat, but he's also no longer a stranger to the world. Analysis would have been done, his weaknesses and trends identified, so he has to get better to stay the same. The New Zealand brains trust loves Santner to the point of obsession. His mission is to start scoring runs and taking wickets to justify the adoration. Two fifties and two three-wicket hauls in 15 tests indicates a luxury player, not an indispensable one.
Those on shorter leashes should include Colin de Grandhomme, BJ Watling and Henry Nicholls. De Grandhomme had a sensational start to his six-match career yet take away his 6-41 in helpful conditions against Pakistan and there's not a lot else to see. He has yet to convince he has the penetration to trouble good players in benign conditions, or the technique to score tough runs. Nicholls scored a quality century against a fine South African attack, giving a peek into the potential that has too seldom showed itself over 14 tests. As it is, his record is remarkably similar to Dean Brownlie, who was discarded after the same amount of opportunities. Watling's gritty batting has always covered for his adequate glovework but since the start of the 2015-16 summer he has passed 50 just four times in 31 innings, and two of those were against a weak-as-water Zimbabwe attack (in the interests of fairness, five of those 31 innings have been undefeated). Still, Watling's injury has opened the door for Tom Blundell.
Those on the outside who want a look-in include the aforementioned Milne and Ferguson, Matt Henry, Neil Broom, Martin Guptill, George Worker, James Neesham, Colin Munro, Scott Kuggeleijn and Ish Sodhi. Anyone beyond those players seems like a long shot at this stage.
Q. Any chance of some milestones being passed this season?
F Paine, Karori
A. With 17 and 16 centuries respectively, Williamson and Taylor have a chance of clearing out from the late, great Martin Crowe (17) at the top of the New Zealand test centuries list. Williamson (5116) is a couple of good knocks from passing John Wright (5334) and Crowe (5444) into fourth on the run scorers list. Taylor (6030), with a good summer, is similarly poised to pass Brendon McCullum (6453) into second, something you suspect will afford him particular pleasure. Boult is 10 wickets from joining the five-man 200+ wickets club, while Wagner is 20 away from the seven-man 150+ club. If Watling returns to fitness and regains the gloves he (167) could challenge Ian Smith (176) and McCullum (179) on the dismissals list and move into second.
THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...
There's an awful lot of simplicity here. Just a few text messages between a father and a reporter. There's an awful lot of power (or, more accurately, powerlessness) in those messages though.