x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

New pink ball fails to shine under the floodlights

Ball designed to aid visibility returned to usual dark red after the lacquer was beaten from it but Durham latch on to a good start from openers.

Steve Kirby, the MCC bowler, examines the new experimental pink ball during last night's match against Durham at Zayed Stadium.
Steve Kirby, the MCC bowler, examines the new experimental pink ball during last night's match against Durham at Zayed Stadium.

ABU DHABI // Back at Lord's, the professional players of Middlesex and the MCC Young Cricketers were vying for room with a host of children, who are attending Easter coaching classes in the indoor nets. There was no chance of any of them getting outside onto the Nursery field, submerged as it was by puddles from April showers which had arrived a few days early.

MCC's champion county fixture is supposed to represent the beginning of English summer. They would not mind if there was even the suggestion of a hint of spring back at headquarters at present. Against that backdrop, moving the traditional curtain-raiser to the English domestic season to Abu Dhabi was a no-brainer. Importantly, the host club, MCC, are now one day better off in assessing the feasibility of pink cricket balls and day-night first-class cricket.

They are still a long way off finding a definite answer as to whether the concept will save the first-class - and then Test - game from diminishing support, but this was a start. Yesterday's opening day (and night) provided one tentative positive at least. There was next to no one watching when the opening session commenced. Yet, with the glare of the floodlights luring cricket fans from Airport Road, a few people filed in after office hours had ended. It was barely more than a handful of spectators, but a handful that would not have been there had it clashed with work or school.

However, the pink ball, which is supposed to aid visibility, certainly needs some work on this evidence. It started off almost florescent pink, but when the lacquer was beaten from it, the ball it had almost returned to the usual dark red. When Dean Cosker, the left-arm spinner who is the slowest of the MCC bowlers, was wheeling away at 7pm, with the floodlights at maximum output, viewing the ball was tough.

And not just from the vast distance of the media centre at the back of the main stand. It must have been tricky for the players, too, judging by the way Scott Newman juggled a dolly of a catch, before finally holding on to dismiss Will Smith, the Durham captain. There was also the side issue of a match to focus on. Durham, the county champions, had by far the better of the play from the moment Smith called correctly at the toss.

Scoring 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May used to be considered a fine achievement in the English game. After his classy century at the Zayed Stadium last night, Michael di Venuto is well on his way there already, and it is not even the end of March yet. The Australian left-hander made a serene 131 from 180 balls, making the lion's share of a 181-run first-wicket alliance with Kyle Coetzer.

For all the novelty of this fixture, few of the players are strangers to this part of the world. Durham's run of success in the domestic game in recent years began with regular jaunts to Abu Dhabi, Ajman and Sharjah, for warm weather, pre-season cricket. Their coach, Geoff Cook, spends much of the off-season coaching here, conducting clinics for the Sharjah-based Young Talents Cricket Academy. He was even here coaching on Christmas eve in 2008, before jetting back to Durham in time to carve the turkey.

Coetzer had played on this ground as recently as February, when he lined up for Scotland in the World Twenty20 qualifier. He needed little time to re-climatise, as he also helped himself to a century as the MCC bowlers struggled to derive any assistance from the most docile of wickets. @Email:pradley@thenational.ae