CA contemplates scrapping Sheffield Shield final
The Sheffield Shield final could soon become a thing of the past. Although there are no immediate plans to scrap the five-day decider from Australia's domestic fixture, Cricket Australia has indicated that it might be squeezed out of the schedule in the coming years if the Big Bash League continues to thrive and expand.
Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland and outgoing chairman Wally Edwards have both questioned the value of the Shield final, which was described by Edwards as being too often "a bad advertisement for the game". The concept of the top two teams playing off in a final was introduced in 1982-83; until then the Shield was awarded to the team that finished on top of the table.
While the final theoretically gives the second-placed team a chance of winning the title, the advantages given to the top team - home advantage and needing only to draw to win the Shield - have led to very few away wins. The last time the away team managed to claim the title was in 2004-05, when New South Wales scraped home by one wicket over Queensland at the Gabba.
Not just that, the home side needing only to draw has often meant dull, defensive batting and ridiculously long innings. At the Gabba in 2005-06, Queensland finally declared their first innings at 6 for 900, with Victoria, who bowled 242 overs, having no hope of winning. Edwards said he would prefer a return to the old system, which was in place when he had been a state player.
"I don't think it plays any real part in our season," Edwards said about the final after Cricket Australia's AGM in Melbourne. "I think, and this is just me, when I played Shield cricket, we didn't have a Shield final. The games were played in two rounds - home and away. The best side wins. It seems to be the fairest way.
"And to me, it feels the Shield final over many years has proven itself to be a bit of a non-event to be honest. There have only been three or four good Shield finals, the rest of them have been shockers; a bad advertisement for the game. I think it confuses the back end of our season. I think the best team should win in Shield cricket. We play ten games, which should sort it out."
The final is still very much part of the schedule for this season but how long it can remain so will likely depend on whether Cricket Australia looks to expand the BBL in coming years. Should the BBL add extra teams or rounds, its schedule may well swell into February, and if any other cricket had to make way, the Shield final would likely be first on the chopping block.
"I think Wally is right, if you do have a look through history the Shield finals have been absolutely dominated by the home team or a long draw," Sutherland said. "I think it is very rare - maybe 5% of the time or something - that the away team has actually won. So, from that point of view, it has never been a great spectacle. And I think that's part of where we continue to review and assess the mix of content.
"At the moment it is there and I don't think we'd change it unless there was a good reason to change that. But at the same time, we're in a very fortunate position at the moment of having a burgeoning domestic Twenty20 competition which is in big demand. At some stage in the future, we'll be looking at ways in which we can expand that, whether that's expansion in the number of matches or teams or what have you, and that might put pressure on other parts of our program."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale