The duel between Western Springs Stadium and Eden Park, as to which venue will host future Auckland cricket tests, has taken its next step.
Feasibility work has started on what is being termed a "national cricket stadium" at Western Springs. Tonkin + Taylor, one of the country's leading environmental and engineering consultancies, has been assigned the work.
If successful, the ground would become New Zealand's ninth test venue, presuming Mt Maunganui's Bay Oval or Nelson's Saxton Oval are not approved in the meantime. Any prospect of test cricket looks unlikely until the speedway lease ends in 2019, after a 90-year tenure.
A source told the Herald the project was "more than basic exploratory work, and more of a go-ahead" but the key parties involved insist no final decision has been made.
In a supplied statement, New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said: "New Zealand Cricket views the development of a viable test venue in Auckland as a priority.
"Over the past few months, the NZC board has received presentations from Auckland Cricket on a proposal to develop Eden Park No2 [the outer oval], and from Regional Facilities Auckland - in terms of developing Western Springs.
"Once all information has been collected and discussed, the Board will be in a position to state a preference."
Auckland Cricket would prefer to make the outer oval a test ground by extending the boundaries so they comply with ICC regulations.
"We've long held an ambition to develop the ground with a stadium which could fit 5000-10,000 people," chief executive Mark Cameron said.
"Regarding any potential relocation, we are holding our position. If there's an opportunity at Western Springs, we'd look at it, but I'm not sure it's appropriate to be talking about it as a potential venue while it's still occupied - and recognised - as the home of speedway. You'd hope they wouldn't be booted until they had somewhere else to go."
Auckland Cricket, as an original owner of the Eden Park site, are offered guarantees with their current deal. They include an annuity in excess of $300,000 under the Eden Park Trust Amendment Act 2009.
As they scope the future, Cameron said next year's proposed day-night test against England on the No 1 ground offers another new opportunity.
Several international limited overs matches would also be likely to stay at Eden Park because they would attract bigger crowds than Western Springs' proposed 10,000-capacity.
Alternatively, Paul Nisbet, the director of Auckland Stadiums as a division of RFA, sees a new cricket ground as a logical solution.
"We're firming up the concept design and assessing the ground conditions at Western Springs. We're still at a stage where we're engaging with our stakeholders."
The RFA annual report for the year ended June 30, 2016, backed that view, after the Warriors were guaranteed to stay at Mt Smart until 2028.
Eden Park has hosted tests twice in the past decade, against England in 2013 and India in 2014. Purpose-built cricket grounds such as Hamilton's Seddon Park, Wellington's Basin Reserve, Christchurch's Hagley Oval and Dunedin's University Oval have been preferred for the game's longest form. In some quarters, that is seen as a missed economic opportunity. The biggest population in the country has needed to travel to Hamilton as their closest test venue for eight of the past 10 summers.