Cricket Australia has opted not to reprise a fully-fledged home and away domestic men's 50-over competition in 2019-20 as the format continues to feel the squeeze in the summer schedule.
However, CA has placed a priority on playing more 50-over domestic games on international-sized grounds in order to better replicate international conditions. The games have also been spread over three months instead of one and the number of increased to seven matches per team plus one final.
CA released the 2019-20 men's domestic fixtures on Tuesday following on from the BBL fixture announcement last week which saw a shorter regular season and new-look finals.
The Sheffield Shield remains intact but the Marsh Cup, previously the JLT Cup, has been reshaped. Six states will play seven matches each, with each state playing each other once and two teams twice. The tournament will start on September 21 and the last three games will be interspersed between the first four Sheffield Shield games with the top two sides meeting in the final on November 26.
CA's head of cricket operations Peter Roach told ESPNcricinfo that after a long process, which included feedback from the states, players and CA's high performance unit, they are pleased with the changes.
"We're playing on bigger grounds. We've got nine of those games on international venues. Last year we only had three," Roach said. "And we're able to add one game per team as well. We think we've achieved what we wanted to achieve within the confines of our season."
Australia's domestic 50-over competition has been a source of much consternation over the last decade as it has been squeezed to the margins of a busy summer calendar. It follows a trend globally of cricket boards having trouble finding room for 50-over domestic cricket. England, having just secured their first men's 50-over World Cup, will significantly reduce their domestic 50-over competition to make room for introduction of The Hundred, a new 100-ball format from the 2020 season.
The competition has gone through many experimental phases and in recent seasons has been played as a pre-season tournament, predominantly on smaller club grounds during September and early-October. Last season, all six sides played each other once with all six qualifying for the finals with Victoria the eventual winners from fourth spot.
The inequitable nature of the fixture has not been redressed given that teams will only play some opposition once and others twice, but not home and away. Western Australia, for example, are set to face a New South Wales team that may have all Australian players available twice in three days at Drummoyne Oval.
Roach said this was the unavoidable cost of both the travel burden on the domestic teams throughout the summer and not having access to some of the international grounds in September and early October.
"The teams that we selected to play each other twice was more around how do we make it easier for the teams to manage their travel requirements," Roach said. "There's clearly a cost benefit to that as well for those teams. But more importantly, these teams travel a lot, especially during the BBL period, so how can we make it easier for them so they're better prepared to play at their best. In an ideal world we would try and ensure that teams over a few years would play about the same number of games against each other. We'll work towards that over the coming years if this is the sort of structure that we continue with going forward."
CA gave serious consideration to splitting the one-day competition either side of the Big Bash but opted against that model. Australia will play nine ODI's between January and March, but domestic players looking to push their case for ODI selection will not play 50-over cricket after November 26. Shield cricket remains the number one priority for CA and the states and as a result, 50-over cricket got squeezed from the post BBL period.
"Strong feedback was of the 10 Shield games, we wanted to have six before the BBL and four after," Roach said. "Then why didn't the one-day stuff bump into BBL? The priority was to play Shield cricket right up to the BBL, so it gave our long-form players a chance to impress and stay in form closer to that bank of Test matches prior to Christmas."
The lower number of domestic 50-over games could be viewed as a hindrance to the development of players in that format. Australian players in their early years of domestic cricket had the potential to play 10 or 11 games of 50-over cricket per season prior to the competition being restructured in 2013. This season it will be seven or eight, which though higher than recent years still gives fewer opportunities for players to develop.
Ashton Turner, Australia's most recent batting debutant in ODI cricket, had only played 30 List A matches between 2013 and 2019 prior to his debut in India. Even if Turner had played every possible match for WA in the six years since the old home and away 50-over tournament was abandoned, he would have played 41. As a comparison England's Jason Roy was able to play 60 List A matches between 2008 and his ODI debut in 2015. Mayank Agarwal, who was called up to India's World Cup squad during the tournament but has yet to debut in ODI cricket, has played 75 List A games between 2012 and 2019.
CA is comfortable with the number of domestic one-day games that are played given the schedule burden but has not ruled out changing that in the future if required.
"We've got places in Australia where we can play cricket in what is historically cricket's off season," Roach said. "That has been mooted, but at the moment we believe our best model is not to start earlier than we are at the moment. We're squeezing in as many games as we possibly can to allow for rest and Premier cricket to play a part as well. We would have to extend the season if that's the case but anything is possible."