ABU DHABI // The Zayed Cricket Stadium's credentials for becoming the world's next Test match venue were given a ringing endorsement by the international cricketers who played in the capital this week. Durham, the English county champions, wrapped up a 311-run success over MCC after just 44 minutes of play on the fourth day yesterday.
The match had been staged in the UAE essentially as an experiment to see if new innovations such as a pink ball and floodlit four-day matches are feasible. It also served as a useful trial run for the groundstaff, following the news Pakistan are planning to play a Test against South Africa at the ground later this year. Ian Blackwell, the Durham all-rounder who played a solitary Test for England in India in 2006, led his side's victory effort with four wickets in the fourth innings.
Along with Steve Harmison, he was one of two players with Test experience in the victorious Durham side. He said: "You come over here and you don't really know what to expect. "Cricket is probably not the UAE's strongest sport, but they love it and they have got a lot of things right here. "It is a fantastic ground, the wicket is very good and it has held up to four days of decent cricket. "There is a little bit of turn. The ball mostly skids and the odd one grips. It wasn't that easy for spinners to bowl on."
The Zayed Stadium plays host to 200 matches per year, the majority of which are limited overs. This was the most high-profile first-class match to be staged here to date. John Stephenson, MCC's head of cricket, has been so enthused by the success of the fixture that he predicted the curtain-raiser to the English domestic season could return here in the future. He also believes Test cricket would work well in the capital.
"I think it is [worthy of Test match cricket]. The groundsman has done a very good job. Over five days, this would be a good Test pitch," he said. "Maybe they could leave a little bit of grass on the wicket, to encourage more pace and bounce. "Overall, it has been tough for the bowlers, but that is cricket. I think it would be a good pitch for Test cricket." Jon Lewis, the MCC seam-bow-ler who has played one Test match for England, added: "The facilities are excellent and the wicket is very, very good.
"I've played one Test, and been around Test squads for matches around the world, and there is no difference in terms of the stadia to this. It is brilliant." While the players were quick to sing the praises of the venue, the jury remains out on whether the pink ball is entirely ready to rescue the longest format of the game. Will Smith, the Durham captain, said: "It is difficult during the twilight period, and when there was dew, the ball was like a sponge."