This is England's first 3 x 3 x 3 tour - with three internationals in each format - which is now recommended for most tours by MCC's world committee. It also has New Zealand's backing.
Beginning with the series of three 20-over internationals - the first on Saturday - gives New Zealand their best chance of denting the superiority complex with which England have always arrived there. In Tests, England lead 45-8. In Twenty20 internationals, they have a ring-rusty captain in Stuart Broad - Whangarei's showers yesterday (Sunday) again prevented him from bowling outdoors - while New Zealand's captain, Brendon McCullum, is the world's leading run-scorer.
Over the next two months in fact McCullum, 31, will be the key figure. If he can rally his troops after the political disputes and win the 20-over or 50-over series, New Zealand could compete in the Tests. If England's bowlers stop McCullum leading by example, the Test series will be a relative stroll in a park strewn with lifeless ferns.
England have had fewer adversaries physically tougher than McCullum, who did not miss one game for New Zealand in a six-year period. Only Sachin Tendulkar (undroppable) and Andy Flower (tougher than he looks) have made more international appearances in succession than McCullum's 208.
This physicality enabled him to launch the Indian Premier League in the most spectacular style - his 158, off 73 balls, has yet to be surpassed - before becoming the world's leading Twenty20 run-scorer. Only McCullum, muscling balls over extra-cover, has hit more than one century in T20 internationals.
He grew up in Dunedin, even more Lowland Scots than most of New Zealand, and his family has unfinished business with England. When they played Otago in a one-day game in 1983-84, England made an insuperable total, then Brendon's father Stu McCullum batted doggedly through 50 overs and would have made a century if England had not tried their hardest to deny him (no criticism of England this, the after-you-Claude era had passed). McCullum senior finished 97 not out.
Brendon also had his elder brother Nathan for company when playing cricket, rugby and football in the backyard. As usual, the younger brother was identified as more talented, and Brendon came to form the core of New Zealand's Test team, keeping wicket and counter-attacking at No?7 with Daniel Vettori at eight. But Nathan, an off-spinner, has joined him in the limited-overs teams.
In his attempt to get this England tour off to a rocky start, McCullum has one and maybe two encouragements. One is that Ross Taylor, the country's best batsman since the master-craftsman Martin Crowe retired in the mid-1990s, has agreed to return and play under him. McCullum had never made any secret of his lawful desire to captain New Zealand, but the timing of his appointment - straight after New Zealand had achieved one of their finest Test wins, in Sri Lanka, under Taylor - could not have been more obtuse.
Depending on how another
31-year-old performs in the two warm-up games against England this week in Whangarei, McCullum may also have the benefit of a new recruit on Saturday. It is exactly four years since Luke Ronchi played the last of his handful of limited-overs matches for Australia as a very hard-hitting batsman who can keep wicket, so Ronchi is now qualified for the land of his birth.
In such ways New Zealand is becoming more cosmopolitan, no longer the sleepy-sheepy backwater of a generation ago when cities closed at 6pm.
Taylor has South Sea Islander ancestry; Ronchi emigrated to Australia then returned; South Africans have flooded into New Zealand's cricket as much as England's. Their last two wicketkeepers have come from South Africa, Kruger van Wyk and BJ Watling, like Matt Prior and Craig Kieswetter. But the hole - the void - in New Zealand's cricket remains: their long-standing lack of top-order Test batsmen. And it is this void which McCullum is trying, bravely, to fill.
Crowe himself has summed it up: ''In 1998 the New Zealand board set up an academy in Lincoln. Coaches and professors from Victoria were flown in. It was an outstanding disaster. Biomechanics became the new buzzword. Out the window went footwork, body position, soft hands and hitting the ball late below the eyes. In came heavier bats, high backlifts, minimal footwork and going hard at the ball.'' Over the last decade New Zealand have tried and discarded a dozen opening batsmen, and the nearest any of them has got to making the grade is Martin Guptill - and after 30 Tests he averages no more than 30.
So McCullum has given up the keeping gloves that he wears in limited-overs cricket and volunteered to lead from the front in Tests as an opener. But having gone hard at the ball for so long, he has found technical refinements - like judging the balls to leave - elusive. And it has to be said that half of his dozen all-format centuries for New Zealand have come against the might of Bangladesh, Canada, Ireland and Zimbabwe.
In 23 innings as a specialist Test opener over the last two years McCullum has reached 70 once, against Zimbabwe, and averaged 26. 'Head-hunting' is not a phrase that cricketers like to use in public. Once James Anderson arrives for the one-dayers and Tests, however, he and Broad will know who to target.
Monday: New Zealand XI v England XI (Whangarei)
Wednesday: New Zealand XI v England XI (Whangarei)
Saturday: 1st T20I (Auckland, 6am GMT)
Feb 12: 2nd T20I (Hamilton, 6am GMT)
Feb 15: 3rd T20I (Wellington, 6am GMT)
Feb 17: 1st ODI (Hamilton, 1am GMT)
Feb 20: 2nd ODI (Napier, 1am GMT)
Feb 23: 3rd ODI (Auckland, 1am GMT)
Feb 27-March 2: New Zealand XI v England XI (Queenstown)
March 6-10: 1st Test (Dunedin, 9.30pm GMT previous day)
Mar 14-18: 2nd Test (Wellington, 9.30pm GMT previous day)
Mar 22-26: 3rd Test (Auckland, 9.30pm previous day)