Plunket Shield set for major cut after this season as long-form cricket under microscope

Canterbury once again proved themselves the top side in the country but the Plunket Shield's days as a full two-round ...
JOHN DAVIDSON/PHOTOSPORT

Canterbury once again proved themselves the top side in the country but the Plunket Shield's days as a full two-round competition are numbered.

Times, they are a changing at New Zealand Cricket, as the Plunket Shield competition looks set for a major shakeup in 2018 and Australian ball manufacturer Kookaburra gets one more season to stave off the English Dukes.

The final piece in the summer schedule puzzle will shortly be released by NZC: the domestic season set to start on October 23, rounded out by a run of six straight Plunket Shield four-dayers deep into March.

The Twenty20 Super Smash is, rightly, moving even more into cricketing prime time and will run from mid-December till mid-January, a further shift from last summer to take in more of the holiday period when punters are actually sighted at domestic matches. Still it's a tough sell, clashing with Black Caps home T20s and ODIs, and Australia's Big Bash.

The English Dukes cricket balls are heading to New Zealand for trials as they push to usurp Kookaburra as ball supplier ...
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The English Dukes cricket balls are heading to New Zealand for trials as they push to usurp Kookaburra as ball supplier in first-class and test cricket in 2018-19.

But change is afoot after this 2017-18 season for a domestic competition which costs NZC up to $5 million per season and, in the case of Plunket Shield, offers no return. It exists primarily to prepare first-class cricketers for test level - even to the point of devaluing the competition when internationals swan in and out mid-game - but there have been only minimal recent success stories, with opener Jeet Raval the poster boy.

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NZC chief executive David White said changes were inevitable to the current Plunket Shield format of two full rounds, 10 matches and up to 40 days of red ball cricket per season at empty grounds. With test cricket cutting back too, White wouldn't rule out halving the competition to a solitary round.

"Maybe. Also more A cricket, is there some more cricket that can bridge the gap from first-class to international cricket a little bit more, they're all the kinds of things we're discussing," said White, who is set to confirm a NZA tour of the subcontinent in coming days.

This season will be status quo, the final year of the master agreement between NZC and the Players' Association which will start to be re-negotiated later this year. Getting the "right mix" of domestic cricket meant some serious discussion around future schedules.

"If we've got in a four-year period of two World T20s and a 50-over World Cup and two test match competitions, what is the right mix of cricket domestically to ensure we're competitive at international level? That is something we're absolutely looking at right now," White said.

The first ball delivered on October 23 will be a shiny red Kookaburra, but that isn't set in stone past this season.

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After widespread dissatisfaction with the Kookaburra, primarily bowlers who struggle to consistently swing it, White said NZC had extended its ball supplier deal for this season only, for domestic and international matches.

The harder Dukes with the more pronounced seam, used in England and preferred by swing bowlers, had pushed hard to take over from Kookaburra who've supplied New Zealand since 1946. While NZC remained loyal to Kookaburra, White said Dukes balls would be tested this summer with a view to potentially switching in 2018-19.

"We've extended the Kookaburra contract for one more year, however the agreement with them this time gives us a lot more flexibility to start trialling other balls including Dukes," White said.

Trials would be at a level below first-class cricket.

White said New Zealand and other countries had raised concerns around the Kookaburra and its lack of swing and previous issues going out of shape. He noted it did hoop around for New Zealand's bowlers in the final test of last summer in Hamilton.

Kookaburra, desperate to retain its status, was working hard on designs and modifications, White said. Cricket Australia even use the Dukes balls for parts of the Sheffield Shield to help prepare their players for Ashes series in England, and White said the feedback had been positive.

"If you talked to Trent Boult and Tim Southee I think they quite enjoy the Dukes but there's a lot of work to do."

 - Stuff

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