Durham prosper against pink ball
Durham 329 for 3 (Coetzer 123*, Blackwell 13*) v MCC
Durham pair Michael Di Venuto and Kyle Coetzer both scored centuries as bat dominated pink ball on an experimental first day of the season-opening fixture against MCC. The traditional county curtain-raiser has a new look this year, with the game transplanted from Lord's to Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium, while pink Kookaburra's and floodlights are also in use.
Those developments are part of a wider plan to usher in the era of day/night Test cricket, an agenda which is unlikely to have been either derailed or dramatically advanced by events on day one of this high-profile trial. Di Venuto hit a sprightly 131 and Coetzer, who batted all day, a more stately 123 not out as the champions made mostly serene progress to 329 for 3 after winning the toss.
The flat wicket and serene batting conditions, rather than the colour of the ball, can take much of the credit for that, though. Gloucestershire seamer Jon Lewis was handed first use of the ball, with Middlesex's Tim Murtagh starting at the other end.
Lewis beat the bat with the fourth delivery of the match but there was little else to worry the champion county's opening pair in the first session. Di Venuto began positively, finding the boundary three times in the first four overs and helping himself to two more in the sixth over as Murtagh strayed.
Alex Gidman turned quickly to the spin of James Middlebrook but he was soon despatched for six over long-on as Di Venuto hurtled towards the first fifty of the first-class season, a feat he reached after 89 balls. Coetzer was struggling for the strike at the other end but looked in little trouble when he did face.
Lewis and Gidman found hints of swing as the ball aged but not enough to contain Durham as they eased to 89 for nought at lunch. The lights came on just after the break, perhaps a little early with the natural light still more than adequate.
The change certainly made little difference to Di Venuto and Coetzer, the former continuing to take the lion's share of the bowling and peppering the boundary accordingly. A pair of singles brought him his hundred from 145 balls with 20 fours and a six along the way.
MCC looked understandably downcast in the field, with a lively Steve Kirby appeal against Di Venuto the closest anyone got to animation before the batsman was stumped by James Foster going down the track to Middlebrook.
At the point of his departure, Di Venuto had 131 of his side's 181. Coetzer eventually passed fifty, while captain Will Smith came and went for 13 before chipping Middlebrook to Scott Newman, who juggled the catch.
Coetzer began to go on the attack as tea loomed, advancing down the wicket a handful of times to the spinners, once to loft Middlebrook for a straight six. New batsman Dale Benkenstein was busy at the crease, working his way to 41 before being bowled by Dean Cosker.
By that time Coetzer, who scored just one first-class century last season, had finally nudged his way to a hundred, a feat which required 194 deliveries. At the close of play he had extended his score to 123, while Ian Blackwell was on 13.