CRICKET Australia has softened a plan to outlaw substandard pitches, with threats to dock points from states off the agenda for now.
CA's concern that pitch standards for domestic matches had declined in the past three years peaked in the first half of the Sheffield Shield season, prompting CA to institute a pitch-inspection program.
When the plan was revealed in November, with a scheduled start of mid-January to encompass the second half of the shield season, CA chief executive James Sutherland raised ''the possibility if a pitch is deemed to be not of the appropriate standard, or significantly below it, that one of the consequences we'd be looking at would be loss of points''.
While the timing is unchanged, CA has subsequently ruled out official intervention, such as points deductions, this season.
CA senior manager of cricket operations Sean Cary said he was concerned immediate execution of a heavy-handed plan would have an outcome similar to that created by the England and Wales Cricket Board's policy on pitch conditions.
''Given the six states we're monitoring have vastly different climates there's quite a bit of science that goes into the preparation of wickets that varies greatly from state to state,'' Cary said. ''They [ECB] have got a system that pretty much dictates to the curators the type of wicket that they want produced. What it's meant is that the unique characteristics of wickets around England have now become very similar.
''Even though we want a fairer balance between bat and ball we wanted to ensure the unique characteristics of wickets around the country were maintained.
''I was frightened that if we implemented a process very quickly and without true engagement with the curators that we were going to pretty much tell them that we wanted this type of wicket produced, and that would have a detrimental effect on the unique characteristics we wanted maintained.''
Much public criticism had been levelled at Hobart's Blundstone Arena, given that half of the 10 completed shield innings there so far this season have resulted in scores below 150. Local curator Marcus Pamplin said this had been influenced by a need to resurface the entire centre wicket and poor early-season weather.
Cary agreed a softer approach would be more popular among ground curators than the more strident alternative that had been contemplated.
''Their greatest fear was that we were attacking their integrity and professionalism as experienced curators, but it wasn't designed to do that at all,'' he said.
''It's usually due to some pretty obvious climatic reasons why a wicket is not as they would like it to be. We've just got to make sure we've got a process that's fair to everyone.''
The story CA puts down the big stick on pitch standards for now first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.