Australia may depart from nearly a century of tradition - and global cricket custom - to play Sheffield Shield matches over five days in order to more closely mirror Test match playing conditions, under a proposal placed before Cricket Australia by the national team performance manager Pat Howard.
Among numerous ideas floated by Howard as a way of revitalising the Shield and ensuring it provides a better grounding for international aspirants in the wake of Australia's grim Test match results so far in 2013, the concept of five-day first-class combat down under has been costed and will be discussed by CA for possible introduction in future summers beyond 2013-14.
Howard's proposal underlines the CA high performance regime's concern about the drift of Shield matches towards three-day results and "sporting" pitches, a trend that has been reflected in the breakdown of Australia's batting production line in recent years. In the wake of the Lord's Test, the Ashes tourists Usman Khawaja and Matthew Wade both expressed a desire for domestic pitches to return to their more traditionally contrasting characteristics, from Sydney's spin to Perth's bounce.
"We want as much of what is happening at international level to be mirrored at domestic level," Howard told ESPNcricinfo. "The goal here in the shorter term is get far more domestic cricket to go in to the fourth day at the moment. If there was five days of cricket available we would be confident of matches having results, but also both batsman and bowlers having to deal with different conditions."
Other concepts designed to ensure Shield matches are played over a more considerable duration include closer monitoring of the standard of first-class pitches with possible penalties for days in which more than 14 wickets fall. Next summer's domestic limited overs competition has been shifted to an early season slot in the forthcoming summer, allowing six Shield matches to be played in the lead-up to the final two Tests of 2013-14 without any change in format for players to negotiate.
The lengthening of Shield matches to five days is not without precedent, as the competition final has always been played over that length of time. In the competition's earliest years between 1892 and 1927, every match was played to a finish, often stretching into a fifth day. Between 1927-28 and 1930 the Shield was contested over five days. But in every season since 1930-31 each fixture excluding the decider has been fought over four.
A move to five-day matches would also take after the universal introduction of four-day County Championship fixtures for the 1993 English season, after more than 120 years of three-day cricket. This change has been cited often as one of the turning points in the English game, and was encouraged in part by the status of Australia's domestic system as that which best grounded players for Test match duty.
Twenty years on and CA may be about to venture even further into recreating the conditions and rhythms of a Test.