A system that isn’t Mahered

March 06, 2018

Tyler Maher has fallen well and truly down the rabbit hole while trying to figure out the best finals system for Cricket Shepparton's competitions. Picture: AAP

As with any office across the world, the topic of water cooler conversation can change vehemently from one day to the next.

Sometimes the discussions will have great relevance to the work going on, other times completely random trains of thought will send the conversation spinning in to the realms of absurdity.

But at The News sports desk — especially at this time of the year — one theme continues to drag us down the rabbit hole.

Sporting finals systems.

What is the best way to decide premierships?

There are a myriad of different systems in place just in the Goulburn Valley alone, but to outsiders they can seem confusing and tenuous.

Let’s take a closer look at the Cricket Shepparton model and compare it to other cemented systems in the region.

The current incarnation of the finals series is only in its second year and already teething problems seem to have appeared.

In the first week, first plays sixth, second takes on fifth and third faces fourth.

The two highest-ranked winners then host semi-finals, while one lucky loser gains a second chance at glory.

The main gripes I have are the lack of benefit provided to top teams and the almost flippant nature of the double chance.

Last year’s Haisman Shield had first (Central Park-St Brendan’s) and second (Mooroopna) lose their respective qualifying finals, sending the Cats crashing out and forcing the Tigers to play third (Katandra) in the semi-final.

While this was a good example of the double chance working well for the top side, the Cats were mightily unlucky to be eliminated after missing top spot by only a game.

What it did do though was open up the other side of the draw.

Fifth-placed Old Students hosted Karramomus (sixth) in the second semi-final, and the rest was history.

The Students were good enough to beat anyone in front of them in the post-season and wholeheartedly deserved the title of premiers, but a system that spits out a fifth v sixth semi-final in its first year of implementation is not a system that has my backing.

This weekend a different issue arose.

All three top sides claimed victory as they should in the system’s essence, giving fourth-placed Central Park-St Brendan’s a double chance.

Again, a model that rewards the fourth team in a final six with another bite at the cherry is not for me.

But what is the solution?

If we look further afield, Murray Valley Cricket Association and Goulburn Murray Cricket head straight to a cutthroat semi-final.

While the model is clean, concise and quick (it only takes up two weekends), it is not fair on the top sides.

In the MVCA, the ladder leaders do not even receive an automatic home ground advantage — leaving little to no difference between finishing first and fourth.

Philosophically, in my opinion, a finals system must be geared towards the top teams in order to make sense.

Otherwise, why bother playing an entire season if all teams must do is qualify for finals?

To finish first or second, especially in a 10-team comp such as the Haisman Shield, takes much more sustained prowess than the fifth or sixth positions.

It must be rewarded.

So we turn to the Goulburn Valley Bowls Division.

A final four system where first and second play for direct entry into the grand final, with the loser retaining the chance to qualify against the ‘‘better’’ side that comes through the third v fourth elimination final, is a model I can certainly get around.

It works perfectly in the eight-team division one competition, with mutual venues adding to — rather than subtracting from — the overall fairness of the set-up.

But put simply, I don’t feel it should be implemented in the Haisman Shield.

A final four in a 10-team section would be too small, as too many sides would be put out of the running before Christmas.

Maybe though, an extended version could be used to incorporate a final six.

The Murray and Kyabram District football leagues are a good example.

First and second-placed teams are almost in a separate post-season structure than third-to-sixth.

The top two receive a week off, then play each other for direct passage into the decider before the loser takes on the last team standing of the other four in a preliminary final.

I love this model for football — it is exactly how I think the finals should be set out.

But again it has its drawbacks when we try to transfer it to cricket.

Four weekends of cricket in a row to decide a premier may just be a step too far, as it takes a mountain more work to complete Saturday-Sunday cricket finals than it does a football match.

The Goulburn Valley League system would also not work.

With a team as low as fifth able to secure a double chance and second spot at a distinct disadvantage when a dominant side such as Kyabram finishes first — as well the fact it is also four weeks long — it is again not ideal for cricket.

Both Picola District leagues also have four-week structures, so we will strike them out as well.

So where does that leave us?

In all honesty, probably bemused and confused.

But fear not — I have a proposition.

It is one from left-field — in fact I have never seen it implemented anywhere — but hear me out.

Adopt a final five system where the minor premier heads straight to the grand final.

Second through fifth would then take on each other in a straight semi-final system, where the best team of the four would then earn the right to play in the decider.

It would place an almost English Premier League-type importance on first spot, but also allow lower sides to aim for an achievable fifth spot.

Yes, the minor premier would have two weekends off after the season, but nothing is stopping them staging a match simulation contest on either or both weekends.

It may not be a system for everyone, but I feel it ticks all of my boxes in a 10-team cricket competition.

The main take away point from this column is quite clear though — no finals system is perfect.

Unfortunately, I feel like there never will be.

In the meantime, I will head back to the drawing board.

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