The Plunket Shield faces a prune when the next four-year Master Agreement is ratified and released by New Zealand Cricket and the New Zealand Cricket Players Association.

The Herald on Sunday understands the country's first-class competition will reduce from 10 to eight rounds for the coming season.

A change to the schedule has been under discussion for the best part of a year. The cost of NZC's domestic competitions have been estimated at $5 million and, with a minimal financial return on investment from the four-day component, it seems destined for a 20 per cent chop.

However, the benefits of the competition for New Zealand at test level are harder to place a tangible value on. A significant number of players are still believed to want a full two rounds - 10 matches - and, depending on the scheduling, a chunk of days could be lost to rain during the likes of a La Niña summer. Is there insurance for that possibility?


Comparisons see England play 14 rounds of the County Championship across divisions of eight and 10 teams.

Australia play 10 rounds and a final of the Sheffield Shield.

India play six four-day rounds of the Ranji Trophy, followed by up to three five-day playoffs.

New Zealand expanded from a five-round competition in 1999-2000 to 10 rounds from 2000-01 to 2002-03. That slimmed to eight rounds and a final from 2003-04 to 2008-09.

The tournament has been 10 rounds for the past nine seasons.

A compromise seems imminent. That could include:

1. Increasing the Ford Trophy 50-over competition from eight to 10 rounds as a way to further prepare players for next year's World Cup.

2. Expanding the New Zealand A programme so the Plunket Shield's elite players get more experience on the international stage's second tier.


Test purists might be justified in being sceptical. If a competition drops to eight rounds, could it be trimmed further? At what point would false economy kick in to dilute players' mental toughness and consequently New Zealand's test clout? How will it affect first-class specialists such as Jeet Raval, Neil Wagner and BJ Watling?

The players are touted to earn a fixed NZC revenue share of 26.5 per cent under the proposed new agreement - a 1.5 per cent increase on the 2010-18 deal. However, white-ball aficionados might be smiling more than their red-ball comrades.