A strong national team needs equally strong performers at state level. While the current Sheffield Shield system continues to develop quality players, in the end there are only 66 places available in state sides each round.
With ongoing competition from AFL and other sports for the loyalty of top junior athletes, increasing the number of Shield teams would arguably make cricket a more attractive option.
Following the response to my article from last week promoting the increased relocation of players, I decided to put together my proposal for expanding the Shield, a popular concept among commenters.
Under my plan, the new competition would include 12 teams. These would be the ACT, North Queensland, North Western Australia, NSW Country, NSW Metro, Northern Territory, South Australia, South Queensland, South Western Australia, Victoria Country, Victoria Metro and Tasmania.
The new look season would start in August with the final played in late October or early November, before the first Test of the summer. The Big Bash League can then run from late December to mid January, followed by the one-day cup in its current, condensed format.
This will mean state cricket will match up more closely with international cricket, allowing players to go from strong Shield form in to the Test side, rather than jumping straight from the BBL.
The first part of season would be played in northern areas, with games in north Western Australia, north Queensland and the Northern Territory. Country teams from Victoria and NSW will play games in several regional centres, north Western Australia will be based in Broome and north Queensland will split games between Cairns and Townsville.
These northern teams, along with the Northern Territory, would also present Cricket Australia with a great opportunity to increase indigenous participation, leapfrogging the AFL in this area by allowing players from remote areas to remain closer to home.
Teams will be split into two groups, with semi-finals between the two top teams in each group, and the winner of each semi-final meeting in the final. The current second XI system can remain in place, but expanding the number of Shield teams will give more players the opportunity to compete and develop against top tier opponents.
While the greater number of teams and places available lends itself to an increase in relocation, giving players the option of staying closer to home, as mentioned earlier it also increases the likelihood of more players choosing cricket.
A good example here is the young Victorian all-rounder Alex Keath. Currently stuck behind Dan Christian, John Hastings and Marcus Stoinis, Keath could instead be lining up each week for Victoria Country. Then again, he may also be a regular in the Victorian side if Hastings had more opportunities in NSW at a younger age.
A further benefit to expansion would be greater access to live, top tier cricket in regional areas. While Cricket Australia do this in one round each year at present, consistent opportunities to attend Shield games would also increase enthusiasm among younger players, perhaps further strengthening the likelihood of them pursuing a career in cricket over other sports.
While Cricket Australia continues to increase its profits through the cash cow of television rights, it would be wonderful to some of these dollars spent on bringing live cricket to more parts of the country. Existing facilities in most areas would reduce infrastructure costs, meaning funds could instead be given to state and territory boards for player and staff salaries and promotional activities.
Change can be unpleasant at times and proposing the revamp of a great competition like the Sheffield Shield is something done with respect and a desire to see cricket continue to thrive in Australia well into the future. What do you think of my ideas, Roarers?