Australian cricket may adopt a version of the English County Championship points-scoring system for the Sheffield Shield, in an effort to reduce the incentives for states to play matches on the kinds of under-prepared pitches that have contributed to the nation's current batting drought.
On the day some of Australia's foremost cricket thinkers met at the SCG to debate the troubling lack of quality batsmen both in the national team and in the domestic and grade tiers below it, Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland revealed that continued preparation of green seamers tailored for outright results would force a change to the way the Shield was contested.
The longstanding Shield system of two points for a first-innings lead, six for an outright result and none for a draw had always been thought to encourage attacking cricket in the traditional Australian vein. But in recent summers, it has been pointed to as an encouragement for the states to ensure matches reached outright results on bowler-friendly surfaces. Sutherland said the system was under review. The English model, where bonus points are awarded for first-innings totals over 300 scored in good time, is believed to be under consideration.
"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," Sutherland 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.
"We've played nine Test matches in a row [in India and England on pitches] with hardly a blade of grass on them, you don't get that in a lot of places around Australia. In Shield cricket it's a different environment. We have definitely had the conversation with people around the country to say there are certain parts of the country where we are expecting pitches to be more like Test cricket pitches."
Pat Howard, the team performance manager, had previously flagged his desire to replicate Test cricket even more closely in domestic matches by extending Shield fixtures to run for five days. He said the trade-off between gaining results to win the Shield and preparing players for Test matches had been discussed at some length with the states.
"If you're in the state system you want to win the game, and to win the game you need to get results. But as their only opportunity, the Shield's got to produce players for Test cricket," Howard said. "So it's a really clear mandate that we've been discussing - we want the Shield pitches to reflect Test cricket. If you're going to play there, we want it to be the same. We think the Test pitches are good, we think the curators are doing a good job, so do the same."
The batting forum was attended by a long list of coaches, former players and mentors, including the Australia captain Michael Clarke, Phil Jaques, Ricky Ponting, Ian and Greg Chappell, Darren Lehmann and the new Centre of Excellence batting coach Graeme Hick. The state coaches Stuart Law, Dan Marsh, Darren Berry, Trevor Bayliss, Greg Shipperd and Justin Langer were also on hand. They were addressed by Howard and Lehmann then presented with a range of data before breaking into workshop groups.
"I don't profess to know everything about batting," Lehmann said. "Those guys have played a lot more Test cricket than I have, so why wouldn't we actually ask about where we're going with our batting. And have a look also at the grassroots level."