The domestic summer of cricket kicks off on Tuesday morning with the first round of Plunket Shield matches. And as tvnz.co.nz's Max Bania writes, there are plenty of reasons to get down to your local oval, soak up the sun and support our grassroots cricketers.
1. The "other shield" returns
Never mind that it's only because New Zealand Cricket were unable to secure a new sponsor after State Insurance pulled the pin. After sitting idle for 35 years, the fabled century-old log of wood is to be dusted off and presented to the winners of this year's four-day competition. Second only in prestige and mystique to the Ranfurly Shield, it's a prize that will be dearly coveted by all teams and adds much intrigue to this year's fixtures. The defending champions? Otago, whose then-captain Glenn Turner was the last man to hold the shield aloft at the end of the 1974/75 season.
2. Foreign flair
In keeping with recent seasons, high-profile "overseas professionals" have been recruited to light up ovals nationwide. Northern Districts have pulled off a real coup by signing Sri Lankan dasher and recent Black Caps tormentor, Tillekeratne Dilshan. Elsewhere, polished England batsmen Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara will line up for Wellington and Auckland respectively, while recalled Pakistan paceman Yasir Arafat will bolster Otago's pace attack. With the prospect of more signings to come, the overseas contingent offer plenty of talent and excitement into the mix.
3. A purist's delight
Take away the glitz and party atmosphere of the international game, and you remove most of the yobbos from the equation as well. Not only does this leave the game's true fans to enjoy the day without fear of abuse and bottles raining down upon them, it's also ideal for parents who would rather not have to field questions from their children such as, "daddy, what's a w***er?" and "who takes what up the what?"
4. Most provincial grounds still observe a loosely-defined BYO policy
Need we say more?
5. Up close and personal
It's long been a point of contention that sportsmen in the professional era are too greatly separated from the fans. Not in domestic cricket. Without the endless scrutiny of media attention and the stifling security measures of larger grounds, players and fans are more or less free to interact at their leisure. It's a great opportunity to have a yarn with an international player on the comeback trail, pick the brain of an aspiring youngster, or give a struggling star some advice on his batting stance.
6. The Black Caps will be back
Thanks to an international break in the month of January, the Black Caps will be available for their provinces throughout the four-week HRV Twenty20 Cup. The timing of the competition to coincide with summer holidays and largely favourable weather means this year's Twenty20 fixtures will reap bigger crowds and more entertainment than ever.
7.The kids are alright
The national side may not be travelling that well at the moment, but there are encouraging signs in the number of promising youngsters who will again catch the eye with bat and ball this summer. Just imagine the bragging rights when the likes of Corey Anderson, Kane Williamson and Neil Wagner receive their international call up and you can tell your mates, "I was there that day in Oamaru when he carved the opposition to pieces."
8. More bang for your buck
Ticket prices range from nothing to $15, and fans are encouraged to bring food into the ground. What better place to take the family for a picnic in the sun? Not to mention the further price advantages when taking into account point #4 above.
9. It's coming to a ground near you (probably)
There may only six teams involved, but a total of 18 grounds from Whangarei to Invercargill will see domestic cricketing action this summer, so the chances are that there will be one near you. As well as the established centres, the likes of Timaru, Rangiora and Queenstown are set to host games, while holiday hotspot Mt Maunganui hosts three Twenty20 fixtures in January.
10. It isn't rugby
The sun is out, the goalposts have been replaced by wicket blocks at local sports grounds and the All Blacks are busy beating up on big-noting Northern Hemisphere no-names in the middle of the night. It all means one thing - it's time to swap the white oval ball for the round red one. Bring on the summer of cricket!