Wellington, Feb 12: Organisers say New Zealand is buzzing with excitement ahead of the Cricket World Cup, the largest sporting event held in the South Pacific nation since rugby union's showcase tournament in 2011.
New Zealand is co-hosting the event with Australia and will stage 23 games in seven cities, including two quarter-finals and a semi. "Interest is building really rapidly," Sports Minister Jonathan Coleman told AFP.
"The Black Caps have had a great summer, we've sold more than 300,000 tickets of the 400,000 available in New Zealand. It's all go, people are really excited about the tournament, about the visitors coming here and we're quietly optimistic about the Black Caps chances."
The tournament is a rare moment in the spotlight for cricket, a sport which comes a distant second to rugby union in the popularity stakes of a land obsessed with the mighty All Blacks.
Instead, this weekend's launch of the Super 15 rugby season has been overshadowed as pundits and talkback radio callers debate the composition of the New Zealand pace attack in the tournament's opening game against Sri Lanka on Saturday.
"You go around the beaches and the parks and there's kids and families playing cricket," New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said.
"We've worked really hard on engaging with the public. It's really gotten momentum in the country and there's a real buzz in New Zealand at the moment. We just can't wait for the tournament to start."
Tipped for glory -The 2011 Rugby World Cup remains the largest event ever staged in New Zealand, generating 1.35 million ticket sales and attracting 133,000 international visitors.
The New Zealand leg of the cricket tournament has 400,000 tickets and is expected to being in more than 30,000 visitors, mostly from England and India.
'It's amazing to have games in Christchurch'
Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand chief executive Chris Roberts said it was similar in scale to a British and Irish Lions rugby union tour.
"But then you've got New Zealand appearing every night in news bulletins in India and all these other countries, you can't buy that type of exposure," he said.
Former New Zealand batsman Mark Greatbatch said holding events in Christchurch was particularly pleasing as the city was unable to host matches for the Rugby World Cup in the wake of a devastating earthquake that killed 185 people.
"It's amazing to have games in Christchurch because back in 2011 they lost the World Cup rugby," he said. "They've also had a really tough time, so to have the opening game there is going to be special."
Adding to the excitement this year is the fact that New Zealand are viewed as genuine contenders to lift the trophy, rather than their normal status as plucky underdogs.
Cricketing legend Ian Botham is among those tipping New Zealand to go all the way for the first time after falling six times at past tournaments in the semi-finals.
While for most Kiwis the 2011 Rugby World Cup is the most fondly remembered sporting event the nation has hosted, Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum is looking back to 1992 for inspiration.
That was the last time New Zealand co-hosted the Cricket World Cup, when Martin Crowe's unfancied team caught the nation's imagination with a giant-killing run to the semi-finals, claiming the scalps of Australia, India, South Africa and England on the way.
"We've got fond memories of that campaign and how it captivated New Zealand," said McCullum, who was a 10-year old at the time.
"The manner in which that team played, the innovation and sheer passion resonates throughout this squad, it'd be great if we could get on some sort of roll as well and try to captivate the nation like they did."