Though I have lived in New Zealand for thirteen years, Christmas and the New Year in summer remains a pleasing novelty, even in Wellington where summer is often harder to spot than it is in other parts of the country. The pohutukawa trees are in bloom around the city, forming a scarlet curtain around one side of the Basin Reserve (rather like the the Nevill Ground in Tunbridge Wells when the rhododendrons are out); everybody is on holiday and the atmosphere is relaxed. Perfect for spending days at the cricket.
Except there isn't any.
The total sum of cricket at the Basin Reserve over the three weeks I have off work is three 20/20 games. No doubt we'll come to a discussion of the merits of 20/20 at some point, though I have no profound philosophical objections. But it's not a meal is it? You wouldn't hand your guests their hats and coats after the toast and pate when they were expecting turkey and all the trimmings. But this is the menu now that 20/20 has been allocated cricket's prime time in January.
Sampling of the records suggests that this may be the most meagre offering at this time of year since first-class cricket began in New Zealand. At one time the first-class Plunket Shield programme (then five matches a team) began on Christmas Day. In 1962/3, for example, Wellington played three times at the Basin in the three-week period under scrutiny, and Central Districts played a game in Palmerston North, a couple of hours away, too.
For four years from 1998 there was a Boxing Day test at the Basin, until it was decided that ODIs would be a more lucrative option at this time of year. Last year there were four domestic one-dayers and an ODI in Wellington in this period.
Thank goodness for the tests in Australia on the TV. But it's not like being there.