MCC v Durham, Abu Dhabi March 28, 2010

Innovations overshadow cricket in curtain-raiser

Liam Brickhill

The traditional curtain-raiser to the English domestic season begins on Monday as county champions Durham play MCC. But while the fixture conjures up genteel images of flannelled gentlemen opening the season under heavy April skies at HQ, the details of the match represent a significant break from convention. The game is to be played well over 3,000 miles away from Lord's, at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, under floodlights, and with a pink ball.

The conditions will be a far cry from those Durham will encounter in their opening Championship game against Essex on April 15, and despite captain Will Smith's recent assertion that his team are heading for a "golden age" as they chase a hat-trick of Championship titles, the buzz ahead of the game is all due to the innovations being trialled. Never before in the history of English first-class cricket has a game been played at night with a pink ball, although the novelty has been tested in limited-overs games, and in a first-class match in the West Indies.

The trialling of this contemporary innovation could have momentous and far-reaching implications, and, with the Lord's Test of Bangladesh's tour this summer briefly mooted as a possible day-night affair, Keith Bradshaw, MCC's chief executive, believes the Abu Dhabi match is an important step in paving the way for day-night Tests in the near future.

"The MCC have just done a tour in this region and all the reports that came back on the pink ball were very encouraging," he told reporters in Abu Dhabi. "But the proof will be in the pudding, which is over the next few days. If the ball stacks up here, performs well, holds its shine and shape and the players have good visibility, then that's as good a test as any.

"We don't want to create any expectations of a timescale, because if there are some issues with the ball we don't want to push too hard and find we've created expectations we can't fulfil," he added. "But I would like to think that if the tests go well and the ball stacks up that we could implement this fairly quickly. I would encourage the ICC and other boards that if the trial goes well, let's implement it as soon as we can. If it stacks up and we get good reports, then why not?"

Despite the landmark nature of the fixture, the changes being tested are unlikely to have a great impact on Test cricket in England, one of the few countries where Tests are still well attended. The fickleness of English weather, even in the summer, also dents the attraction of attending a Test in the evening and as such the evolution of the format could be far more significantly felt in the subcontinent and Australia, where audiences are falling.

"On the whole, we've not really looked at this specifically for England but further abroad," explained Bradshaw. "Test match attendances throughout England, and in London in particular, are still very healthy. We're fortunate in England that we're not seeing the declining numbers that some other countries are seeing.

"We're not advocating that every Test is a day-night Test, but it can compliment and certainly add some interest in the subcontinent and other countries," he added. "I know Australia are keen and have been trialling the concept. James Sutherland [chief executive of Cricket Australia] is very keen to push on with the concept and find an appropriate ball."

With cricket as a whole in a state of flux, and uncertainty surrounding the future of both Test and one-day cricket in an increasingly packed international calendar, Smith warned against the danger of cheapening the game with gimmickry for financial gain, although he accepted that the implementation of the concepts could provide a timely boost to cricket's longer formats.

"If it goes well out here in 40 degree heat that's one thing but it would be hard to fully align that to English conditions," the Durham captain said. "I think we would need to have a few more steps along the way before we see day-night Test cricket or Championship cricket.

"As long as it doesn't take away from the traditional values and the nuances of the four-day game, which are very important, it must be a good thing. If it can bring more spectators in after work then great, but it can't just be used as a money-making tool - the game still has to be right."

Jon Lewis, the Gloucestershire opening bowler, Glamorgan left-arm spinner Dean Cosker and Tim Murtagh from Middlesex have been drafted into the MCC squad for the match in order to give Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett a rest, and if MCC field first, Lewis could well have the honour of bowling the first pink ball in English first-class cricket.

"I'm really pleased and excited to get this opportunity to play for MCC in Abu Dhabi. It will be extremely useful, high quality match practice ahead of the championship season," he said. "Playing with the pink ball and under lights is a fascinating prospect and I'm eager to learn more about the pink ball and how it behaves."

Mark Ramprakash, who had been part of the MCC squad, has flown home from Abu Dhabi for personal reasons, meaning that MCC's playing XI for the fixture is now fixed.

MCC Alex Gidman (capt), Scott Newman, David Sales, Dawid Malan, James Taylor, James Foster (wk), James Middlebrook, Tim Murtagh, Steve Kirby, Jon Lewis, Dean Cosker

Durham (from) Will Smith (capt), Phil Mustard (wk), Dale Benkenstein, Ben Stokes, Gordon Muchall, Michael Di Venuto, Mark Stoneman, Ben Harmison, Gareth Breese, Kyle Coetzer, Ian Blackwell, Michael Richardson, Will Gidman, Neil Killeen, Mitchell Claydon, Chris Rushworth, Luke Evans, Callum Thorp, Scott Borthwick, Steve Harmison

Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amy on March 29, 2010, 12:41 GMT

    I'm all for experimentation within the game, but pink balls in test cricket? Surely there should be a point where technological innovation is sacrificed to keep the nature of the game in tact. A test match is not just a game between two teams played in a vacuum - it is affected by the weather, conditions, umpires and of course I'm sure we've all watched a match were fading light has added another exciting element to the game. T20 is the format for me a traditionalist, but I think the test match is just fine how it is.

  • Jason on March 29, 2010, 11:15 GMT

    I think the key to this experiment will be in terms of deciphering whether Day/Night Tests can be played in areas where there are frequent light problems - thinking particularly here of the sub-continent, where it gets dark much earlier. No real need for it in England where the summer light conditions (on a sunny day anyway!) mean it doesn't get dark in June/July until about 10:00pm.

  • Tim on March 29, 2010, 10:38 GMT

    The pink ball was tried in several first class matches in the caribbean - not just one. An event largely ignored by the anglo/indian obsessed cricinfo!

  • Roelof on March 29, 2010, 10:15 GMT

    allblue, it is not only visibility that could be effected.

    It is still a mystery why some balls swing more than others. The white ball for example seems to swing much more than the red ball, although I am sure the makers attempted to keep all other things similar.

    So the interaction of the dye with the surface of the ball is what really matters. It might swing more new. Or less. And it might take a different type of scuff mark, also leading to differing types and amounts of swing.

  • James on March 29, 2010, 9:15 GMT

    Although i see the need to trai new ideas, such as the new pink ball why can't this game be played at Lords.We need to see how this ball plays in English Conditions. Also what crowd are going to see this match. I have attended the MCC V County Champions fior the past few years and always enjoyed the games. Once again Spectors are treated like second glass citizeans. DO we spectors matter any more? If Austria are keen on this then they can trial this new ball.

  • H sachin on March 29, 2010, 7:45 GMT

    The "white elephant" in the room is the fact that test match cricket, is likely to be subsidized by t20. And so be it! All power to that model!

    Economically if test matches dont make sense, thats fine.

    The world is changing, capitalism brought about by british & american banks are being replaced by quasi-capitalism models on doing "the right thing" // with some economic grounds.

    Pink or Red, long live the love for test matches, and test matches themselves :-)

  • Ben on March 29, 2010, 7:24 GMT

    My club -- London Itinerants CC -- have been using pink balls in evening T20 games for a year or two now, and they really do make a difference under (fading) natural lighting conditions -- much more visible (and, they solve a problem that I can't imagine will happen in first-class games: you can find them when they've been hit into a hedge, much more easily!).

    For whatever reason, they don't discolour nearly as fast as white balls do (so no need for a mandatory ball-change), but they do hoop round corners. As a bowler, I'd say that's helping to level the playing field!

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2010, 22:04 GMT

    What was the outcome of trials in West Indies recently? I don't remember seeing any report on that here on Cricinfo.

  • Michael on March 28, 2010, 21:14 GMT

    Cricket is going in some very odd directions these days, and I am not sure that apart from lining a few people's pockets it is doing this sport any good whatsoever. Please someone.give us back our game in a recognisable form! This particular innovation just seems TRAGIC !

  • deepak on March 28, 2010, 20:19 GMT

    lol lol lol lol lol lol lol lol lol lol lolo

  • No featured comments at the moment.