ABU DHABI // Given the distance between England's northern-most cricket-playing county, Durham, and Lord's, the home of MCC, players and supporters probably welcomed news that their meeting was set to be played on neutral territory. Somewhere around Birmingham or Nottingham would be very handy. Playing the traditional curtain-raiser to the English domestic season 5,500 kilometres away in the Middle East instead may seem a touch peculiar, but the nominal 'hosts', MCC, have good reasons. They are footing a hefty bill for relocating here for the week, but see it as a necessary cost as they step up experiments which they hope will have a lasting impact on the first-class game. No doubt, the players will be grateful to escape the British weather, too, which still probably feels more like winter than spring.
The meteorological office have forecast a maximum temperature for Durham of five degrees today, with a 70 per cent chance of precipitation. It goes without saying, a slip catch off the bowling of Steve Harmison is a much more appealing proposition in Abu Dhabi at this time of year. "We are raring to get going," said Alex Gidman, the Gloucestershire captain who is guesting in a similar role for MCC for this fixture. "I've had four outdoor nets so far this year, so the feeling is still very much a pre-season one, but we are looking forward to playing now." If any of the players do feel a pang of conscience over the carbon footprint they are leaving by flying here to play, it might have been Gidman brothers. Instead of facing each other in the backyard of the family home in Gloucestershire, the brothers could have been in direct opposition in the capital this afternoon.
However, the prospect was thwarted when the Durham man, who was one of the leading players of an MCC A tour here earlier this year, picked up a hand injury playing against Sussex last week. MCC may have called in some of the finest talent in the English game, such as the veteran batsman Mark Ramprakash, for this fixture. But they will still have their work cut out against a Durham attack spearheaded by the England fast-bowler, Steve Harmison. firstname.lastname@example.org