Negative batting by home sides in the Sheffield Shield final has been targeted by a major change to the way the competition winner is determined, with the match now to be awarded to the team earning the most first-innings bonus points in the event of a drawn match.
The decision, reached by Cricket Australia's playing conditions committee, is the most significant departure from the traditional concept of the top team being awarded the Shield if there is no outright result in the final played over five days and has been devised to reward a more proactive approach to the match that has decided the winner of every competition since 1983.
Bonus points are awarded in regular season Shield matches on the basis of 0.01 bonus points for each run scored above 200 in the first 100 overs of each first innings, and 0.1 for each wicket within those 100 overs, creating a quantifiable incentive for faster scoring. Described by CA as a one-year trial concept, the change to the final was the most significant of numerous recommendations. These also included the introduction of a heat policy for all competitions, allowance for the use of a runner for any injured player at the fall of the ninth wicket of an innings, and dismissals being permitted if a ball is hit and lodges in or under a fielders' helmet, on the full.
"It's important we continually look at the game, and assess options to get the best outcome for players, fans and Australian cricket in general," CA's cricket operations manager Peter Roach said. "In the case of the Sheffield Shield Final, we wished to ensure the match is a fitting finale to our marquee men's domestic competition.
"The previous rule allowing the home team to win the final in the case of a draw was not consistent with how this competition is generally played. In the past six seasons, we have had only two results in the five-day final - 33 per cent - compared to a 79 per cent win-rate in the four-day home and away matches.
"The rule will be trialled this year, and we believe it will encourage the teams involved to push for a result and improve the spectacle in the tournament's showcase match."
The need for an increased spectacle is believed to have been part of discussions with the new rights holder News Corporation, with Fox Sports set to broadcast the final in addition to a selection of domestic limited-overs games. Shield finals have a history of high-scoring matches on flat pitches where the home side has the incentive to simply bat for as long as possible and thus secure a draw.
Roach said that the heat policy, allowing for the calling off of play, should summer weather temperatures becomes extreme, is primarily devised to allow for the use of extra drinks breaks to ensure players are not dehydrated on hot days. "Introducing a heat policy for domestic cricket was originally raised by the CA-ACA OHS committee some years ago," he said. "CA has thoroughly researched the subject and come up with a tool that incorporates all weather factors as well as the physical attributes of players.
"While the tool does allow for the cancellation or suspension of play in the most extreme conditions, historic weather data shows us that this is unlikely for senior domestic cricket. The real benefit will be the guidance it provides on when additional or longer drinks breaks should be incorporated into a day's play.
"We also have introduced a different tool that caters for our under-age domestic competitions, where participants often play many consecutive days at the height of summer. The main priority of the heat policy is to provide options to our match officials to maximise play in extreme heat, but at all times placing the health and safety of our participants as the highest priority."
Brendan Drew, the operations manager for the Australian Cricketers' Association, is also part of the playing conditions committee alongside Roach, CA's team performance manager Pat Howard, the board directors Mark Taylor and Michael Kasprowicz, Tasmania captain George Bailey, Victoria women's vice-captain Molly Strano, the CA umpire education manager Richard Patterson, and the umpire Gerard Abood. Drew described the Shield final as the "pinnacle" of the domestic season.
"The Sheffield Shield final is the pinnacle of the male domestic season," he said. "Extending the bonus point system in to the final will assist in making the match the best contest possible."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig