Close MCC 156 for 7 (Murtagh 27*, Lewis 32*, Blackwell 3-39) and 162 (Malan 41, Borthwick 4-27) require 370 runs to beat Durham 228 for 6 dec (Thorp 79*, Coetzer 52*, Kirby 2-10) and 459 for 9 dec (Coetzer 172, Di Venuto 131, Malan 4-20) with three wickets remaining
Durham ripped through MCC's batting line-up for the second day in a row to move within three wickets of a resounding victory on day three of the county curtain-raiser at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
If MCC's labours in the field on Monday suggested the pink ball being trialled in this fixture offers little for the bowlers, Durham have gone about proving the opposite ever since, rolling their opponents for 162 yesterday and leaving them 156 for seven at stumps.
That left MCC 370 runs adrift of a nominal target of 526, with Scott Borthwick and Ian Blackwell sharing six wickets in the final session.Steve Kirby, who took two late wickets last night to leave Durham seven for two, started with another fiery spell this morning. First he beat Blackwell with a bouncer and then clattered Will Smith on the helmet with another short-pitched delivery.
Jon Lewis, who has been struggling with a thigh problem for much of the match, came on first change and proceeded to bowl Smith via the bottom edge with his first ball of the innings. Dean Cosker matched that feat, snaring Blackwell's outside edge with his loosener. Phil Mustard was in at five in a changed Durham order and quickly opened up with a handful of crisp attacking strokes.
But debutant Ben Stokes could only add seven before he was pinned lbw by MCC skipper Alex Gidman as Durham stumbled to 74 for five. Mustard dashed a single just before the break to bring up his 50, which included eight fours, but fell two balls into the second session, carving James Middlebrook into the hands of James Taylor.
That brought day one centurion Kyle Coetzer and Callum Thorp together and the pair were offered some fairly easy pickings as the frontline bowlers were withdrawn from the action in favour part-time spin from Taylor and Malan.
Thorp took full advantage, helping himself to a rare half-century before moving up the gears to pass his previous first-class best of 75 with two thrashed boundaries off Taylor. Coetzer, meanwhile, followed up his career-best 172 in the first innings with an organised but low-key 52 not out. Despite the awkward twilight period closing in, Smith delayed the inevitable declaration by a handful of overs before calling his men in at 228 for six.
Just seven of those had been scored when Steve Harmison struck in his third over, Scott Newman playing on for a second failure of the match. MCC soon set about replicating their implosion on day two, with David Sales (2) trapped lbw by Blackwell and Malan (13) lifting the same bowler to substitute fielder Mark Stoneman. Blackwell's left-arm spin continued to trouble the batsmen, with Gidman bowled for a breezy 17 after missing a paddle sweep.
At 44 for four, MCC were in deep trouble. They struggled to 74 before James Foster went lbw for six, Borthwick striking with his first ball of the day. That was his fifth scalp of the match and a sixth could have followed from the next ball when Middlebrook survived another strong shout.
Yet he could not capitalise on his reprieve, making just nine before picking out Smith to give Borthwick a second success. Taylor, the 2009 Young Cricketer of the Year made a composed 39 before he too capitulated to Borthwick, pulling a shorter one to Coetzer, who held a smart catch. By now the result was a formality but Lewis (32 not out) and Murtagh (27 not out) forged a solid eighth-wicket stand to ensure the match would reach a fourth day.
Even Harmison, who had puzzlingly contributed just three overs with the new ball, was tempted into a second spell without joy.