New era for Sheffield Shield
Bonus points will return to the Sheffield Shield competition under a new system to be introduced to Australia's first-class proving ground next summer.
In the most fundamental change to the Shield competition since the introduction of the five-day final in 1982-83, Cricket Australia will adopt a system derived from those used in England and South Africa, where bonus points are awarded for runs and wickets inside the first 100 overs of the first innings.
A CA board meeting at the National Cricket Centre in March "endorsed a recommendation to adopt a new points system for future seasons of the Sheffield Shield, subject to further consultation with State Associations", and ESPNcricinfo understands the new bonus points system may be announced as soon as next week.
This concept has been deemed more nuanced than the long-time award of six points for an outright result and two for a first innings lead. The premium on outright results had for some years been cited as a major contributor to Australia's successful and aggressive brand of the game, but recent summers had seen the increasingly frequent preparation of "result" pitches as ruinous to batsmen and spin bowlers as they were helpful to seamers.
Last year CA had directed state associations to prepare drier pitches to provide a more equitable contest between batsmen, pacemen and spinners, resulting in the average duration of Shield matches growing from 289 to 338 overs per game. Spin bowlers were duly responsible for more than 1000 extra overs and claimed more than 100 extra wickets in 2013-14 when compared with 2012-13. The number of hundreds compiled in the Shield also rose by 20%.
These statistics will be further encouraged with the change to the points system. The Shield has featured bonus points before, from 1971-72 until 1980-81. During that time, teams were motivated towards faster scoring with up to 10 batting points and five bowling points on offer in the first 100 (eight-ball) overs of their first innings.
Discussion of changes to the points system has been going on at CA management and board levels for some time, and was not quietened by the success of the Test team beating England 5-0 at home last summer before following up with a 2-1 away victory over South Africa. In October, the chief executive James Sutherland had made the link between points systems and pitches.
"There is a question mark we have in our own mind as to whether the incentives are in the right place to deliver the best pitches," he said. "If we have a points system that is heavily loaded to an outright result, then people may well roll the dice on a less prepared wicket. If you have a look at a lot of other places around the world, their domestic four-day competition has a different points system, where there are bonus points.
"We will have a look closely to see how the pitches play out and what happens in Test cricket, but we are having a look at our points system to understand whether it is creating incentives that end up in the wrong place. Shield cricket is the best place to prepare players for Test cricket. Therefore it follows that we should play on pitches that are as much akin to Test cricket as possible."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig