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Explainer: Why are England and New Zealand playing a Test series now?

It's not on the FTP, it's not part of the WTC, and it won't feature any of England's IPL players (bar one)

George Dobell
George Dobell
The two-Test series with England will help New Zealand's preparations for the WTC final  •  Getty Images

The two-Test series with England will help New Zealand's preparations for the WTC final  •  Getty Images

England are set to play New Zealand in Tests at Lord's and Edgbaston over the next two weeks. But how did the series, which was only confirmed in January and is in addition to tours of England by Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India this summer, come about? Let's take a look.
This series between England and New Zealand isn't on the Future Tours Programme (FTP), is it?
It is not.
And it's not part of the World Test Championship?
It is not. It was added on as an extra series.
Wasn't the schedule already pretty hectic?
It sure was. Particularly given that players (and support staff) have been obliged to live in biosecure bubbles for much of the last year. There really wasn't a huge clamour for more cricket.
So why is it happening?
Well, the 2020 summer was heavily disrupted and the ECB incurred significant financial losses. So the board wanted to give host venues and broadcasters an opportunity to host or show more cricket. One of these Tests is being played at Edgbaston, for example, which doesn't have a Test during the India series which follows. So the aim was to boost the cricketing economy and give spectators an extra match to enjoy. The hope was it would be something of a celebration. It may well still feel that way, especially by the time they arrive at Edgbaston with 18,000 spectators in the ground.
Didn't England fulfil their entire home international schedule last summer?
They did. And by doing so, albeit in a shortened window, without crowds and at vast expense, they were able to satisfy most of the requirements of their various broadcast deals. But they were not able to play the Hundred, which was a key part of the broadcast deal, and were reliant upon their broadcast partners' understanding when it proved impossible to stage any cricket before July.
So does the ECB gain extra money from broadcast revenue for putting on these games?
No. These games have effectively been put on to reward broadcasters - and Sky in particular - for their goodwill last year. And with capacity for the first Test limited to 25% of capacity, the scope for boosting the coffers is limited, too. You can see what the intention was, though. And much of the other revenues are insured to mitigate for the losses around Covid. So this will bring a boost to the English game and ensure the relationship between the ECB and its key broadcast partner remains very good.
What's in it for New Zealand?
As things stand, they will be able to use the series to prepare for the World Test Championship (WTC) final. And while their place in that final was not assured at the time the tour was arranged, it was always a possibility. So, they will have time to acclimatise to the pitches and, in particular, the Dukes ball which they don't use at home. At the same time, they are keen to support the ECB and repay them for their visit to New Zealand at the end of 2019. That tour wasn't part of the FTP or the WTC, either. But if the last year or so has shown us anything, it is that all international teams need one another. They are all, to a greater or lesser extent, in the same boat.
Why aren't England's IPL players involved?
By the time the Test series was arranged, the ECB had already agreed to allow its top players to appear in the IPL: contracts had been signed and no-objection certificates agreed. At the same time, the ECB has been keen to ensure players exposed to sustained times in bio-bubbles would be given time to refresh and see friends and family. It was accepted they would not be involved in this series. And remember: there are no WTC points available here. This is a chance to take a look at some fringe players and plan for the future.
Wasn't Sam Billings at the IPL?
He was. But he didn't play. And while he was in England's limited-overs squads over the winter, he didn't spend as much time in bio-bubbles as many others. He was also the only one of the England players at the IPL to return to county action in the round of games starting on May 20 and, in Ashley Giles' words, put forward a "strong case" for inclusion.
Would this series have taken place even if England had reached the WTC final?
Yes. The ECB is adamant that, even if both England and New Zealand had reached that final, this series would still have taken place.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo