When David White took over as New Zealand Cricket's chief executive in February 2012, the organisation was in a ramshackle state. The men's side was unloved, and with good reason - they were ranked eighth, ninth and eighth in Tests, ODIs and T20s. NZC was barely in the black. Even the famed Kiwi hallmarks of unity and pulling together were absent.
The year ended with Ross Taylor being sacked, an episode so ignominious and handled so shoddily that it led the late Martin Crowe to reportedly burn his New Zealand blazer. And 2013 began with the New Zealand side bowled out for 45 against South Africa in Cape Town - a critical moment not merely for the team. "It really made us sit back and look at us as an organisation at the time - we were at rock bottom, there's no doubt about that," White says.
He has cause to be rather happier now. New Zealand reached their first ever World Cup final last year. Finances, "dire" when White took over, have been transformed, thanks to a combination of co-hosting the World Cup and more lucrative broadcasting deals. Today NZC has reserves of NZ$28 million. And junior participation has risen by 20% since the World Cup, helped by a range of programmes making the sport as easy to play as possible, taking overall playing numbers to an all-time peak.
"Cricket's on a real high in New Zealand. The international acclaim the team has gained led by Brendon [McCullum] has been quite outstanding. New Zealand Cricket, through a lot of his actions, are held in very high regard both on and off the field." White's good mood is not even dimmed by the opposition to New Zealand's tour of Zimbabwe, which begins with a warm-up game on July 22.
Among White's reasons to be optimistic are recent developments at the ICC. New Zealand were among the first to sign up to the Big Three's reforms, not because they thought they were right, but because New Zealand reckoned they did not have a choice. "We're a very small country. Was it a mistake? I wouldn't call it a mistake, I'd call it pragmatic," White says.
He is heartened by the state of the ICC under the chairmanship of Shashank Manohar. "It's very stable at ICC level now and there seems to be more collegiate feeling and goodwill amongst members. The ICC is in a good place."
One test of the Full Members' ability to work together will be whether the proposals to create two divisions in Test cricket are ratified. At this year's Spirit of Cricket Lecture, McCullum was unsure of the merits of two divisions, and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have publicly expressed their opposition.
White takes a very different view, declaring, "We are big supporters." This is particularly significant given his role not merely as New Zealand's representative on the ICC board but also as the Full Member representative on the ICC Cricket Committee.
"There's already lot of interest in New Zealand in Test cricket, but if we had a competition with promotion and relegation and a winner at the end, it would really increase interest, no doubt about that," White says. "Everyone agrees we need context, we need something that's aspirational. Promotion and relegation will give a lot of interest." His only caveat is to ensure that "the countries who don't make the top division in the first instance are not disadvantaged financially - that's really important".
While McCullum expressed his concern that New Zealand could be in Division Two in Tests, White says this is not a good enough reason to oppose the proposals. "We support meritocracy. If you're good enough, you're good enough - if you're not good enough, you shouldn't be there. It's incumbent upon us to make sure we are good enough." He says two divisions in Tests are preferable to including more teams over a longer period "because you can't really have a competition over three or four years in my view. It's got to be a maximum of two years."
White also believes that the reforms will improve the overall quality of the Test game. "It will make people look at their high-performance programmes and their systems, so the product of Test cricket will improve as well."
As part of the ongoing ICC review of its revenue distribution, India's share of ICC revenue could be reduced, which could mean more money for New Zealand. But White says he has other priorities. "Before we worry about money, the first thing we've got to do is get the structure right. If we get the structure right, we'll get the commercial benefits. But if we think solely about money first, I don't think we'll be making the right decisions for cricket."
There is another significant change to Test cricket that White advocates - trimming matches to four days, as has been floated by the ECB's Colin Graves. "If it doesn't compromise the integrity of the game, four days would assist greatly with programming and player workloads.
"We need to seriously look at it. One of the challenges at the moment is if you play a three-Test series, it has to be played over four weeks. Four weeks is a long time. But if you play a three-Test series of four-day cricket it can be played over three weeks, so you save a week. And, as we know the calendar is very congested. If you had a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday Test, it becomes a little bit like golf really - you know that Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday would be the Test. There's a lot of work to be done around this but it's certainly a concept that's worth exploring further."
Last November, White was in Adelaide for the first day-night Test, which he describes as "one of the great sporting events". New Zealand's first home day-night Test could be against England at Eden Park early in 2018. "It won't be the dominant part of Test cricket, and it will have to be played at the right time of year in the right conditions, but it's a really important part of the future of Test cricket."
New Zealand have not been afflicted by the recent gloom engulfing Test cricket. A strategy to host Tests in boutique venues, like Hagley Oval in Christchurch, the Basin Reserve in Wellington, and University Oval in Dunedin, rather than play matches in huge stadiums with swathes of empty seats, has been vindicated. Last year White addressed a Chief Executive's Committee meeting at the ICC and outlined New Zealand Cricket's strategy to sell out smaller venues - thereby showing a full house, and driving demand - rather than having a sparse crowd in a Test at a venue like Eden Park.
"It presents so well on television as well. It looks good and that's important for the sport," White explains. "Our people in New Zealand love nothing more than lying on a grass bank and watching Test cricket on a sunny day. "One of the challenges is perception. When you have a Test match being played in a massive stadium with only a few thousand people, it just doesn't present well."
One way New Zealand reckon they can overcome the challenges presented by their small population is through good governance. Reforms of the board in 1995 and 2013 modernised the NZC and ensured "a very good balance between connection to cricket and also commercial acumen," White says.
Shrewd administration is evident in New Zealand's enlightened approach to their players taking part in the IPL, and avoiding scheduling clashes with the tournament. The contrast with the West Indies is instructive.
"We've got a very good relationship with our players' association. We're on the same page. We all understand that we are a small country with a limited market and we've got to be pragmatic. We're happy to let our players play in the IPL, of course - it's great for them and the profile of our players - and where possible we let them play in other domestic competitions. But everyone agrees that the performance of the Black Caps, and the women's team as well, is paramount, because if we don't have a successful international team, we won't be able to fund our community game."
Of all the steps the board has taken to help the team improve on the field, White reckons the most significant is the work done to improve the squad's depth, the result of an expanded A team programme, and coordinating the high-performance programme. In this "our small size is an advantage," White says. "We've now got players stepping up to the international stage - Corey Anderson, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi - whereas in the past when people came into the Black Caps, they kind of had their apprenticeship while playing international cricket."
This new generation has benefited from an increased focus on fitness for players beyond the national team. Centrally contracted fitness trainers across all six state associations were introduced four years ago. Those in the national team work with Chris Donaldson, a former Olympic sprinter.
For all New Zealand's recent success, White is adamant that the best is yet to come. "Have we got more potential? Absolutely." A full review is being conducted into the delivery of cricket in New Zealand, to ask: "Are we delivering it to the best of our ability?"
While McCullum has retired, White believes the essence of what he built will remain. "Kane's [Williamson] going to be quite outstanding. We've got a group of players who are very together and play cricket for the right reasons."
New Zealand also have a coach White regards as "the most outstanding in our history". Appointing Mike Hesson, who did not play a single first-class match, was among the first major decisions White had to make.
"I always select capability over credibility. It has been a fault in the past - selecting people just because they were an international cricketer. You've got to look at the skillset first, and in my view, he was the standout candidate."
White has never had reason to regret his decision, and recently extended Hesson's contract until the 2019 World Cup. "The thing about Mike is, he rarely changes whether we win or lose. He's so consistent. He doesn't get too excited if we win or too down if we lose, for him it's more about the process of how we got to the end result. He's just rock solid."
He picks out two other particular qualities of Hesson's: his lack of an ego, rendering him happy "to bring people around him who are more skilled in certain areas", like batting coach Craig McMillan and former bowling coach Shane Bond; and sagacious team selection, which White reckons his best trait of all.
Hesson "gives a player every opportunity to succeed, and often has come under criticism for holding on to players for a long period of time. The classic example pre-World Cup was Martin Guptill." And he marries this loyalty with pragmatism, evident in how New Zealand selected three specialist spinners, and benched Trent Boult and Tim Southee, during the World T20.
After New Zealand waltzed through the Super 10s, when they were the only undefeated team, their tournament ended with defeat in the semi-final - their eighth defeat in nine semi-finals across the World Cup and WT20.
"It's something we've talked about, the trend. We need to go to the next level, there's no doubt about that. It's certainly something that we're conscious of and are working towards but we need to win something soon. We've got the ability to do it. Maybe in the past we were content to get to semi-finals but we're not now, we want to win. I like to think in the Champions Trophy and the World Cup we'll have a strong chance in conditions that will suit us."
New Zealand Cricket's new strategic plan declared the sport "a game for all New Zealanders". It is a tacit recognition that, for ethnic minorities and women, this has not always been the case.
"We're a real melting pot of cultures and want to celebrate that, and give every New Zealander an opportunity to play cricket," White says, viewing the emerging of Sodhi and recent selection of the opening batsman Jeet Raval, who was born in Gujarat, as heralding a new era. "We've got a really interesting situation in New Zealand. We've got a strong Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afghan population who are fully integrated into New Zealand now, and there's a lot of talent coming through, which is just terrific."
Women's cricket is a particular priority, something that has seldom been the case. "We've always performed well at the top level, but the underlying state of the women's game has been quite dire," White admits. "Our numbers are poor at senior women's level but strong at junior level. It's one of the main priorities in our strategic plan - to bring more women into cricket, not only playing the game but supporting and connecting with the game now. We're taking this incredibly seriously. It's something that New Zealand Cricket could have done better over the last few years."
The board is on the verge of finalising a new memorandum of understanding with the players, which will increase the number of contracted players from ten to 15 and significantly increase the value of their retainers. "Unfortunately we're just not in a position yet to make them full-time professionals, but I like to think it's part of the evolution."
Here and beyond, White is leading an entity that is evolving, trying to marry the best of cricket's history with the need to modernise. "We've respected the traditions of the game but not been limited by them."
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts