Bonus points bring new challenge to Shield final

Peter Nevill drives Getty Images

On September 13 last year, two days after Australia's first Test squad in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal was announced, Cricket Australia quietly announced changes to the Sheffield Shield final. Given all that had gone on in the preceding six months, and all that was about to unfold with the Longstaff review, it was barely noticed.

But it meant that after 36 Sheffield Shield finals, where only four visiting teams had beaten the hosts, a draw was no longer a guarantor of victory for the home side.

Instead, in the instance of a draw occurring after five days between Victoria and New South Wales at the Junction Oval starting Thursday, the team with the most bonus points accrued from the first 100 overs of the match, where 0.01 points are awarded for every run made over 200, and 0.10 points for every wicket taken, will be awarded the Shield.

It is a one-year trial and on the eve of the final players are very supportive of it.

"I think it's a really positive thing for the game, it creates a much better contest," New South Wales captain Peter Nevill said. "The results speak for themselves for what's happened in Shield finals for a number of years now. I know the Shield we won in 2013-14 was a draw. Most of them have been. This is a really positive step. I think you'll see pitches prepared that will be really good cricket wickets.

"The last thing you want really is a wicket offering nothing to the bowlers and it's five days of just watching people smack it around the park, so I think it will make for a great contest."

While Victoria would prefer the ability to draw the game and win, they have issues with the new rules.

"I know I've played in finals before and it's been a draw and you end up on the losing end," Victoria opener Marcus Harris said. "I suppose it will make a bit more interesting. But I dare say with a five-day final, more often than not you'd probably get a result."

So, with the new rules in vogue, what is the Shield final's place in Australian cricket?

It's been 11 years since Victoria and New South Wales have met in a final.

That 2007-08 edition featured both current coaches Phil Jaques and Andrew McDonald and NSW assistant Beau Casson, as well as a bevy of modern Australian Test greats including Michael Clarke, Brett Lee, Simon Katich, Brad Haddin and Stuart MacGill, as well as a host of other Australian representatives including Brad Hodge, Stuart Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Cameron White and David Hussey.

For all the mature age talent on show, it helped launch the careers of two up and coming stars. Peter Siddle, playing in just his seventh Shield match for Victoria aged 23, went through a virtual Test batting line-up taking nine wickets on a slow, low surface at the SCG. He would debut against India months later and now has 214 Test wickets and is still going.

Phillip Hughes, also in just his seventh game aged 19, made his first first-class century in the second innings. He would make four more Shield centuries the following season before making his Test debut less than 12 months later.

Katich was the Player of the Match in that final with scores of 86 and 92 to cap a staggering season where he made 1506 runs including five centuries in just 11 matches. After three years out of the Test side, he was reinstated in the first Test following that Shield final, against West Indies. He would make eight Test hundreds and average 50.48 at the top level in the next three years.

Ahead of the last Ashes tour in 2015, Adam Voges made a hundred in a Shield final, his sixth of the season, and at 35 was selected for his Test debut on the subsequent tour of the West Indies and played in the Ashes. He would make five Test hundreds in 20 Tests and average 61.87.

Harris made a hundred in the same Shield final for WA in a draw against Victoria. He would make another hundred in a drawn final two years later in Alice Springs for Victoria. Travis Head made a century in the same game while Chadd Sayers and Jon Holland both took seven-wicket hauls.

There is a litany of examples of Australia Test players performing great deeds in Shield finals over the last 35 years. Why the Shield final's relevance is ever questioned in this context remains a mystery.

Its value is in its participants. It is the opportunity for the two best domestic teams to go head to head in a high-pressure match, and more often than not the cream of those teams has risen to the top, regardless of the result.

The value of this final is obvious. It is a chance for Harris and Kurtis Patterson to make their cases for the Ashes squad indestructible. It is a chance for Scott Boland, Chris Tremain, James Patterson, Sean Abbott or Harry Conway to do what Siddle did in 2008 and vault into Test contention. It is a chance for Siddle and Trent Copeland to remind everyone of their incredible skill and experience in big games with Dukes balls.

It is a chance for youngsters like Will Pucovski, Jason Sangha or Jack Edwards to do what Hughes did, and make their name.

And it's a chance for former Test players like Jon Holland, Steve O'Keefe, Moises Henriques and Nevill to remind the national selectors of their worth.

"I know as a domestic player when you start training around June/July this is what we work for so we're really looking forward to the opportunity," Harris said. "As a cricketer and as a professional you want to perform in big games. It's not really different to any other game but obviously you get yourself up a bit more for a final."

The Shield final doesn't need gimmicks or rule changes to have value in Australian cricket. It simply needs to be played.