Like stumbling upon an old Disney VHS tape, it's perhaps impossible to look forward to an upcoming triangular series without feeling a pang of nostalgia. Back to a time before they were boxed into tight one-week windows, before Ravi Shastri dismissed them in 2015 as "a complete waste of time and energy", before they were used only to prepare for an upcoming and more important event, a tri-series decorated a season otherwise replate with a steady, humdrum flow of context-free bilateral tours.
Back to a time, indeed, before they simply stopped happening altogether. Between 2000 and 2010, there were 57 ODI or T20I series involving three or four teams. The upcoming tournament in Christchurch featuring New Zealand, Bangladesh and Pakistan will, by contrast, be the first such series exclusively featuring Full Members in more than three years.
Between 2011 and 2017, there were just 10 such series in seven years, the equivalent seasons a decade earlier witnessed 36 tournaments of this kind. This particular tournament in Christchurch spans seven games, seven days and one venue, all geared towards preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia. In 2007, the CB series between Australia, England and New Zealand took place over 31 days and six venues. The inaugural T20 World Cup that year, by contrast, was crammed into just 13 days.
Pakistan and Bangladesh will be grateful to get some World Cup preparation in on that side of the world in that Hemisphere, having played out an Asia Cup that, in its own way, yielded more negatives than positives for both sides. The two subcontinental sides are in the same World Cup group, and face off against each other in their final pool game in Adelaide in a month.
They didn't get a chance to meet at the Asia Cup, so two or three games over the next week might throw up a trade secret or two one of them could harness in the World Cup to obtain a small statistical edge. While most other sides will only manage a couple of warm-up games before jumping into the World Cup, these sides have the chance to tinker with player combinations and strategies in competitive match situations in ostensibly similar conditions. After all, Sharjah, Dubai, Karachi and Lahore, the venue of Pakistan and Bangladesh's most recent T20I games, didn't exactly replicate World Cup conditions.
Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are good, but are they so good they cause the others to be bad? Or do they have to be so good because the others are so bad? Tune in next game to find out, and repeat ad nauseum.
After several months of relative peace and quiet in this tireless, repetitive war, fresh fighting broke out in the last five weeks, almost every game adding fuel to the fire and, depending on which camp you were in, conclusively dismantling the other once and for all. An uneasy truce has broken out as the theatre of war shifts to Australasia, with both sides sharpening their knives in preparation for the next onslaught.
Bangladesh's problems are perhaps more profound, having endured a wretched build-up to the World Cup, one that threatens a bruising post-tournament inquest unless there's a dramatic reversal of fortunes in the next month. A 2-0 series defeat against West Indies was followed by a stunning 2-1 loss to Zimbabwe before the Asia Cup delivered the coup de grâce, where Bangladesh joined Hong Kong in being eliminated after the first round following losses to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. An unconvincing pair of wins over the UAE would follow in Dubai, where the home side were unlucky not to split the series 1-1.
But any excitement at getting a look at each other in Antipodean conditions likely cooled significantly when they stepped off the plane into the freezing Cantabrian air. Shadab Khan made no secret of his playful displeasure at the weather gods in a social media post from Christchurch that showed him wrapped up in a woolen hat and thick scarf, having pulled his sweater sleeves over his hands. There was even snow forecast for Thursday, the eve of the first game, with Kane Williamson, in typically laconic fashion, saying training would be "interesting", if that happened.
How well the Hagley Oval serves its function as a World Cup warm-up destination is less certain. The ground has tended to be among the spicier ones in New Zealand, offering both lateral movement and generous bounce. Unless you watch the Canterbury Kings (or the Wizards as they were initially called, but of course you know this) though, much of that information will be gleaned from one of the other formats; there have only ever been two T20Is played at the ground. Even in the New Zealand squad, just one player, Daryl Mitchell, represents the home side in the Super Smash.
Even so, New Zealand will be more au fait with what to expect from the Hagley Oval, but then again, they're less fussed about adjusting to conditions. A bigger concern for the hosts will be a lack of competitive match practice as a unit since the start of the year; they might have won nine of 10 matches they played in 2022, but seven of those wins came against Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands. Conditions, as well as a merciful absence of fitness issues, allow the home side the luxury of having both Lockie Ferguson and Adam Milne available. Operating alongside Tim Southee and Trent Boult, it's a pace attack that should enthrall, as well as intimidate not just the two sides they're up against in the next week, but any of the other 15 over the next month.
But New Zealand's is an aging squad, with just one player under the age of 25 and 11 in their 30s. There's a natural cycle that might be drawing to a close for what is undoubtedly its greatest cricketing generation - one that has, in its last seven years, reached four ICC finals and won the inaugural World Test Championship. A white-ball triumph has remained elusive, though, and New Zealand's old guard will know this might well be their last tilt at going one better than they managed last year.
Because ultimately, of course, it's all about the World Cup; a tri-series never is just a tri-series anymore. But it is here in the biting Christchurch cold where the rain threatens to freeze up that three sides at different stages of their T20 evolution dot the i's and cross the t's on their World Cup preparations. It promises to be, at the very least, as Williamson might put it, "interesting". Just like tri-series often used to be.