Champion County v MCC, Abu Dhabi, 2010 December 11, 2009

MCC to stage floodlit season opener

The county champions, Durham, will play against MCC in a floodlit four-day game in Abu Dhabi next March, after it was confirmed that the traditional opening fixture of the English season would be shifted from Lord's to the Zayed International Stadium.

The match, which will be contested from March 29 to April 1 using the pink balls that MCC has been pioneering in recent seasons, was confirmed this week at an MCC Committee meeting, and according to MCC's head of cricket, John Stephenson, such a radical step could pave the way for a new future for Test cricket.

"We are delighted to confirm the MCC-Champion County match will take place in Abu Dhabi, and greatly appreciate Durham's enthusiasm and co-operation," said Stephenson. "Ultimately, this match is being played in Abu Dhabi for two reasons. Firstly, we felt that the proposed fixture schedule for Lord's (April 3-5) was far too early in the year to play meaningful cricket, with poor weather a very likely possibility.

"Secondly, we've been asking cricket authorities around the world to help us trial the pink ball under floodlights. If this match is a success, it could help to re-invigorate Test cricket. We have an opportunity to play our part for the good of the game and we're determined to grasp it."

The logistics of the fixture are still to be confirmed, including the hours of play and its first-class status, but MCC's chief executive, Keith Bradshaw, told Cricinfo that he would be addressing the latter issue directly with the ICC. "Give the work that we've been doing with respect to the pink ball," he said, "we feel that this is an innovative trial that needs to be undertaken to see if it is suitable for Test cricket.

"It is not a decision that we have taken lightly, and I know some MCC members and public might not agree with it," Bradshaw added. "We are not suggesting for one minute that we intend to take the Champion County fixture away from Lord's permanently, but this comes hot on the heels of our World Cricket Committee meeting in Dubai, at which we felt that a match under lights in white clothing was an innovation worth exploring."

The Zayed international cricket stadium is the home ground is the home of Abu Dhabi CC, who last month signed an agreement with MCC to become Associate Club partners. It recently hosted a series of one-day internationals between Pakistan and New Zealand.

"Although it is a disappointment not to have the traditional season opener at Lord's we fully understand and support the reasons for that and are therefore honoured to have the opportunity to take part in this innovative and historic match," said Durham's head coach, Geoff Cook.

"As the game of cricket generally is moving forward, the possibility of playing with pink cricket balls for the first time in a four-day match, under floodlights, is an experience that the players will be really looking forward to."

Cook's stance represents a significant change of heart, because as recently as September, he was outspoken in his refusal to trial the MCC's pink ball in the dead-rubber county fixture between Durham and their already-relegated opponents, Worcestershire.

"I was not keen," said Cook at the time. "It was a first-class match and I thought we should retain the game's integrity." The MCC's inability to test the pink ball in first-class conditions was the principle reason why next May's proposed day/night Test against Bangladesh had to be shelved.

MCC will select a competitive team to face Durham, with the best county, MCC University and United Arab Emirates cricketers in line for selection.

Meanwhile, an ECB meeting has approved a change in the points system for the 2010 County Championship season. In a bid to increasing attacking intent, 16 points will now be awarded for a victory and just three for a draw in 2010 - a change from the previous 14 and four.

Bonus points remain unchanged, with five for batting and three available for bowling in first innings, although they will now only be awarded for the first 110 overs. Use of the heavy roller is now outlawed once play has commenced.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo