States could lose points for poor pitches
Cricket Australia will consider taking Sheffield Shield points away from state sides if they host matches on substandard pitches. A meeting of state and territory chief executives, as well as Cricket Australia's executives, in Melbourne last week determined that a pitch inspection process would be introduced from January 13, with the aim of ensuring Shield surfaces were good enough to prepare players for Test cricket.
There has been strong criticism of domestic pitches this summer, including from the South Australia coach Darren Berry, who said earlier this month that states were aiming to produce "result pitches", which had the effect of making fast bowlers' figures look more impressive than they should be. And Michael Hussey told ESPNcricinfo that extremely seam-friendly Shield pitches were detrimental to the development of batsmen, fast bowlers or spinners.
The newly relaid pitch square at Bellerive Oval in Hobart has been especially difficult to bat on this season, with innings totals of 112, 237, 138, 196, 95, 142 and 360 in the first two games. James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, said the new pitch inspection process was likely to take place only in the event of a match providing out-of-the-ordinary results.
"What we want to do is make it very clear that our expectation around pitches is that we want the best pitches for all top-level cricket but particularly shield cricket," Sutherland told the Sunday Age. "The hypothesis there is that if you're preparing players for Test cricket it follows that you should have pitches that are akin to international standard.
"The thinking is there'll be the possibility if a pitch is deemed to be not of the appropriate standard, or significantly below it, that one of the consequences we'd be looking at would be loss of points."
"We just have a feeling that over the past three years or so that scores, particularly in the first innings, are down ... and that the pitches are a lot more conducive to faster bowlers and seam bowlers. On top of that, one of the things that comes with a shorter game on a pitch that's suited to the fast bowlers is there's less opportunity for the spin bowlers to bowl and develop, and even get a game in some places."
This season, no spinner has taken more than two wickets in a Shield innings and not since Bryce McGain in 2007-08 has a spinner collected 30 victims in a Shield season. In the past decade, only five times has a spinner enjoyed a 30-wicket Shield summer, while fast and medium bowlers have achieved the feat a collective 86 times in the same period.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here