Stephen Brenkley: Forward-thinking MCC in the pink over curtain-raiser switch to Abu Dhabi

On the front foot: Eden is far from paradise; Boxing not so clever; Prior closing in on record
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The Independent Online

The first-class cricket season begins today. It is fair to say that it is not what it was. But despite the weather it is confidently expected that the Champion County match between MCC and Warwickshire will proceed as planned. MCC, its organisers, will be congratulating themselves on the foresight they demonstrated three years ago in decreeing that this match should be played in Abu Dhabi. The pink ball in which they have invested both faith and copious research will again be used in the day-night fixture. There is no definitive evidence that it is much closer to being used in more significant fixtures (though time was that MCC v the Champions was a curtain-raiser nonpareil). In 17 days' time the County Championship itself starts, in accordance with the recent convention that the second week in April is an acceptable time. When sanity prevailed in these matters May was the beginning of the season. Given the weather in England, the Championship is already looking in peril. Despite that it has enjoyed its most important fillip perhaps since the outpouring of relief at the end of the Second World War which brought record crowds. BBC Radio are to broadcast ball-by-ball coverage of all matches this summer. It is a huge pledge of faith that the competition still has a crucial place in the fabric of the nation at a time when many media outlets, in thrall to football, have virtually given up on it. Commentaries will be on BBC online streams, accessible via BBC and ECB websites. In addition, there will be increased coverage on Radio Five Live Sports Extra, including a Championship match every week. Richard Burgess, the BBC's head of radio sport and sports news, had it right when he said: "There is a big appetite for county cricket coverage." Wonder if he can persuade his television counterparts and others, who ignore if not deny its existence, of the fact.

Eden is far from paradise

After a magnificent few days at Basin Reserve, Wellington, marred only by a rainy finish, arriving at Eden Park has been like coming to earth with a bump. The ground is shiny, new and antiseptic but it was built for rugby, not cricket. This shows nowhere more than in the pitch, which is drop-in and straddles the halfway line. The straight boundaries are plain silly, a mere 67 metres. Apparently and mysteriously they conform to the recently revised regulations of the ICC, which state that the straight boundary must be a minimum of 70 metres (except for grounds already in use before 2007). The evidence from the two days' cricket so far is that the regulations are plain daft as well.

Boxing not so clever

There but for the grace of God-like sub-editors. In a lovely essay for the Dominion Post the other day, Jeremy Coney, the former New Zealand captain, wrote of the epic tour of England in 1973 when a tough team, led by Bev Congdon, might have won two Tests but lost 2-0. Coney spoke of a player being lean and hungry like Cassius, as described by Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare's play. Classical readers may have been slightly thrown when this was changed in print to being "lean and hungry like Cassius Clay".

Prior closing in on record

Matt Prior has now become the 10th wicketkeeper to do the job in 50 consecutive Test matches for his country. Adam Gilchrist is well clear at the top of the list, never missing a match for Australia from the moment he was selected and appearing in all in 96 Tests before his retirement in 2008. Alan Knott (65 between 1971 and 1977) has the England record run. Prior, who at the age of 31 still has plenty of time on his side, has them all in his sights providing he can steer clear of injury.