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Durham in Abu Dhabi - Diary part three

Durham v MCC in Abu Dhabi under a red night's sky
Durham's floodlit adventure against the MCC in Abu Dhabi saw some spectacular skylines out in the desert

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

English cricket witnessed a new development here in the desert - The Twilight Zone.

For years teams have pondered when the best period is to declare an innings and have a go at the opposition. At the Riverside it's normally about tea-time.

But on Tuesday Durham used a new tactic which has only become available for the first time in this game - the twilight declaration.

Having made the MCC's bowlers toil for a day-and-a-half Will Smith decided to declare just as darkness began to fall and the conditions changed. Having played for most of the afternoon in the heat the temperature then dropped and the adjustment from natural light to floodlights proved a troublesome one for the batsmen.

Under the floodlights of the Sheikh Zayed Stadium Durham prospered with the ball.

Having made 459-9 they skittled the MCC out for just 162, with the pink balling skidding through as the light and dew started to play their part.

The MCC had three players back in the hutch with just six runs on the board as Steve Harmison and Callum Thorp took advantage with some fine bowling, exploiting the new pink ball to their advantage.

There was even a chance for leg spinner Scott Borthwick to take four wickets late on as he got a bit of turn out of what had been a seemingly docile track.

That was a crumb of comfort for the young Sunderland lad because that bowling spell was sandwiched in between a pair of ducks.

Scott Borthwick
Scott Borthwick came on to take four wickets for Durham

Having gone third ball in the first innings, Scott opened the batting when Durham took the pragmatic approach not to force a follow-on.

After all this game is also about getting time in the middle and match practice.

In the second innings Scott got another duck, but then so did Dale Benkenstein as Durham were none for two.

If this form of cricket does take off then the tactics of darkness declarations could become as important an element of the game as winning the toss.

The pink ball does work - apparently

Following my complaints about not being able to see the high-vis pink ball from the fifth floor of the media centre I was joined in the commentary box by the MCC team coach John Stephenson.

And he was amazed by how difficult it is to follow the ball from up here in the roof.

He tells me it's a lot easier to follow down on the field and in the lower level stands where a few hardy spectators are based.

John even donned his whites for a period here so he could go out and do a bit of fielding and says he enjoyed the experience and the fact the ball was all the more visible to the players.

Ross Taylor nearly done and dusted

Following our exclusive on day one - courtesy of an on-air slip of the tongue from Durham Chairman Clive Leech - I can tell you the deal to bring New Zealand's Ross Taylor to the Riverside is almost signed off.

Ross Taylor
Negotiations to sign Ross Taylor for Durham are at an advanced stage

Durham chief executive David Harker told me: "Ross is a great player and someone who we are hoping to bring to the club for the Twenty20 but it would be unfair to go into more detail about it now because he is in the middle of a series with New Zealand and we don't want to distract him from that.

"But hopefully the matter will be sorted out soon and we will see him at Durham in the summer."

David and coach Geoff Cook are fully aware of the dangers of talking about prospective signings in this day and age.

Just last year the Australian batsman Phil Hughes was said to be on his way to Durham. He told an Australian paper he was about to sign for the club but was then lured to London at the last minute instead by Middlesex.

Period of mourning

Three days of mourning have been declared here following the death of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed, the brother of Abu Dhabi's ruler. He was killed in a gliding accident last weekend in Morocco. The plane he was in crashed into a lake and according to The National paper here it took divers four days to find his body.

Initially it was thought sporting events would be halted but the game continues as planned. Sale of alcohol in all of Abu Dhabi's hotels will be stopped though and a number of concerts and other events have been cancelled or postponed.

Sheikh Ahmed was in charge of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the richest organisations in the world and responsible for the re-shaping of this desert land.

Test match status

The powers that be here at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium are celebrating the news the ground has now received Test status. Pakistan will play South Africa here in October.

The ground has already staged numerous one day internationals but the step to Test match level is a big boost for the area. One of the directors here says the wicket is so good you could bat for 10 days on it.

But I suppose that depends if it's turning dark or not. Nearly all of the wickets that have fallen on the first two days have been under the floodlights.



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