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Durham in Abu Dhabi - Diary part one

The coloured cricket balls for use in the MCC game against Durham
Durham are set to use the pink ball against the MCC in the historic first opener away from Lord's

By Martin Emmerson
BBC Newcastle's Durham cricket reporter in Abu Dhabi

"Welcome to the Middlesex County Cricket Club!" The words of the British Ambassador on a warm evening in the gardens of the British Embassy in down town Abu Dhabi.

He was speaking at an official reception here to celebrate the historic meeting of MCC and Durham in the desert.

I have to say for his part the Ambassador seemed to stray off the script slightly as he tried to work out mid-speech what MCC could possibly stand for. Better stick to the script in future. The chocolates were nice though.

The fact we were there to hear him at all was a minor miracle following the journey we had from the Zayed Cricket Stadium to the embassy.

Gloucestershire's Steve Kirby in the nets
It might be a trip to Abu Dhabi but it is all about the cricket for the players

Earlier I'd gone to the ground with the MCC players during their mid-afternoon training session. I wanted to check the lines, get a few interviews and take some photos. The players wanted some net practice and some time with that pink ball in the heat.

It's a great ground with one of the biggest main stands I have ever seen.

However, it's a long way from anywhere right now, although I am told it won't be for long.

And given the fact the place has developed at a rapid rate since I was last here five years ago, I can quite believe the ground will soon be surrounded by developments on all sides.

We are here because the MCC has joined forces with the Abu Dhabi Cricket Club to form a Middle Eastern partnership to try and push cricket further in this area. They also want to try out a new high visibility pink ball in "harsh conditions".

It's been developed with the help of Imperial College London and at the expense of an orange alternative. And the match will take place under floodlights for the four days. If it is a success then floodlit Tests will follow.

There's already plenty to build on out here in cricketing terms. International fixtures have been played at this relatively new ground.

Just down the road in Dubai there's one of the best cricket stadiums in the world, and England played there recently.

WHO ARE THE MCC?
The Marylebone Cricket Club formalised the rules of cricket in the late 18th century
Lord's - the home of cricket - is owned and maintained by the MCC
It has 18,000 full members and 4,000 associate members

A tad further along the gridlocked motorway system you find the Sharjah Cricket Stadium - once proud of the fact it held more one-day international matches than any other ground.

It's now home to Afghanistan's fledgling but successful side.

Road to nowhere

As we boarded the bus from the ground to the embassy it was clear the driver could not speak any English.

None of us could speak whatever language it was he could speak, for it was not Arabic either and what followed was a very long and confusing journey into no-man's land.

The driver eventually pulled up at the side of the road while discussions went on as to where we might be. Several players got their Blackberrys out and tried to find our location on their GPS systems. That bit worked. Sadly they still had no idea where we were meant to be heading.

Eventually the driver continued along the motorway talking on one mobile phone to his boss, while a kind lady from the embassy tried to give him instructions on a second mobile phone clasped to his other ear.

I don't know how he was steering the bus. I think it was with his knees. While we all sat open-mouthed his colleague then appeared alongside in another bus and guided us to our final destination - just in time to hear the speeches at The British Embassy.

So there's plenty going on out here. Sadly "The Knowledge" (ask a London cabbie) is not one of them.

It would appear quite a few of the taxi drivers have little idea where they are meant to be heading.

My journey from the airport to the team hotel was fun. Most of the people I have spoken to went completely different routes to each other as well so I think we have all discovered a corner of Abu Dhabi in the last couple of days that none of us imagined we would.

No Ramps

One sad pointer ahead of the game. Although he'd travelled out here 40-year-old Mark Ramprakash has had to return home for family reasons and won't play for the MCC.

It's a shame. I was looking forward to seeing him out in the middle. Leicestershire's young batsman James Taylor is playing in the game. He's half the age of Mark.

And MCC captain Alex Gidman will not be competing against his brother Will either. Will, who is with the Durham squad, has split the webbing in his fingers.



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