MCC v the Champion County. Pink balls. Floodlights. First-class cricket in Abu Dhabi. It has not been your average season-opening fixture for MCC, as they took on Durham at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
An idea mooted last November and firmed up in December became a reality as MCC, the Guardian of the Laws and Spirit of Cricket, continued its trials into coloured cricket balls.
Moving the match to Abu Dhabi enabled the Club to test the pink cricket ball in some of the harshest possible match conditions and - in a bid to help reinvigorate Test cricket around the world - play the game in day/night hours.
The fact-finding mission provided evidence of something long known: Durham are a very good side.
It was also no surprise to learn that bowling conditions were more favourable in the ‘twilight’ hour and when the floodlights were on.
Key to the trip, though, from MCC’s research viewpoint, was a judgement on how the pink ball fared in all conditions.
Pink ball under scrutiny
John Stephenson, MCC Head of Cricket, managed the MCC team in Abu Dhabi and has been the Club’s driving force into the research of coloured cricket balls. He felt the pink ball responded well to the test:
"It has been a heavy defeat for MCC on the field, but in so many ways this has been a tremendous success.
"We have proved that the pink ball is clearly visible in day or night conditions and that day/night first-class cricket is a viable option for cricket administrators.
"Certainly the pink ball itself could be improved - such as by darkening the seam so batsmen can pick up the spinning delivery - but I don’t see an insurmountable block to progress."
The MCC team agreed with Stephenson’s assessment.
James Foster, the Essex and England wicket-keeper, who saw a lot of the pink ball, having spent around 200 overs in the field throughout the match said:
"I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the pink cricket ball.
"Given the harsh conditions in Abu Dhabi, especially on the first day, I think this was a successful trial.
"While it was reasonably challenging to pick up at twilight, this is the norm with all coloured balls in that period. In day and night conditions, it was clearly visible.
"More trials should be encouraged, in all types of playing conditions, to get the broadest view in as short a timeframe as possible.
"While I can’t foresee an entire Test series being played in day/night conditions, I think there is a definite future for Test match cricket under lights."
Steve Kirby, the Gloucestershire and England Lions fast bowler, added: "With the commercial dominance of Twenty20 cricket, something has to be done to revitalise first-class cricket and act as a vehicle to creating Test-quality players.
"To get spectators to watch the longer format, we must bring the game to them.
"We should play at times more suitable to the paying public and give spectators the option to watch one, two or all three sessions.
"I believe the advent of day/night first-class cricket is therefore inevitable."
"Tactically, the day/night game opens up new possibilities as the transition between day and night has a significant impact on the game.
"On the whole, I’ve found it a fantastic, enjoyable experience and would recommend this format wholeheartedly."
The history books will record a hefty 311-run win for an excellent Durham team.
The greater historical significance of this Champion County match has yet to be determined.
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