New Zealand Cricket has announced that the 2004-05 domestic cricket programme will involve a five-day State Championship final, and the use of the Christmas-New Year holiday period to make State Shield matches more accessible to fans and holiday makers.

The eight-round State Championship, two rounds of which will be played prior to Christmas, will culminate with a five-day final for the first time in recent history. Martin Snedden, New Zealand Cricket's chief executive, said that a five-day final was more appropriate for determining the winner of the competition, though all the round-robin games would be played over four days.

"The purpose is to try and provide a final that is above the level of domestic cricket and which will more closely replicate a Test match," said Snedden. He also said that the final had been scheduled to be played after New Zealand's Test series against Australia, so that the country's top players could participate.

"It enables the two finalists to regroup and also for players carrying niggling injuries to recover," he said. "It will enable ground staff at the final venue to prepare the best possible playing surface and it might open up an opportunity for some Black Caps players to participate."

The opening round of the State Championship will see a re-match of last season's final, with the State Wellington Firebirds, the defending champions, facing the State Canterbury Wizards at Hagley Oval in Christchurch from December 7-10.

The Christmas-New Year break has been targeted in the State Shield programme with matches on December 27, January 1 and January 3, all public holidays. "What we have done, and it was a key aim of ours, is make first-class cricket more accessible to fans and holiday-makers," said Snedden.

However, the proposed New Zealand A home series against South Africa A and India A would not go ahead, since neither would be able to tour. "When we launched the regular New Zealand A team programme last season we anticipated being able to secure three series' every two years," said Snedden. "The current series in South Africa and confirmation that the team will tour Sri Lanka next September/October ensures that volume of top-quality competition is delivered for the New Zealand A team."