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Hamid Hassan writes about his excitement in being selected for the ICC Combined XI to play England
It has been a brilliant first few days in Dubai preparing for the ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI match against England on Saturday. We have worked really hard in our training camp and it has been great to spend some time with some really good players from outside the Test playing world.
We were sitting in the changing rooms earlier and we were talking about how funny it is for us all to be on the same team and to make so many good friends, when we are so used to playing against each other and when usually our only interaction is to shake hands at the end of a match. Everybody is very proud to have been selected for this inaugural match and we want to do all of the countries outside of the Test playing world proud with a good performance.
Last year was a bit disappointing for Afghanistan, losing matches that we should have done better in, but hopefully winning the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 Cup in Nepal in December is a positive sign of things to come.
On a personal level, it was also sad that I continued to struggle with an ankle injury in 2011, but I am confident that I will be able to get through an exciting year of cricket without too many problems.
As well as this match against England, there is also a lot to look forward to in the coming year for my country. Having the chance to play against Pakistan in February is a game that people back home are really looking forward to – I would imagine that it will be very hard to get a ticket for that game, as so many Afghanistan fans living in the UAE will want to come and watch.
In March, we have the ICC World Twenty20 2012 qualifier, which we really want to get through, so that we can show the potential of the Afghanistan team on the world stage again, like we did in the Caribbean back in 2010. Obviously players from many of my main rivals in that event are playing alongside me this week, so it will be a different experience playing against them in March, having got to know them so well through this match.
There are also a number of important Intercontinental Cup matches in 2012 and we obviously want to do well in the 50-over league to have a chance of playing in our first ever World Cup, having come so close to having qualified for the last tournament in 2009.
It is very exciting that we have the chance to play the No. 1 Test team in the world this week, although I don’t really feel any pressure. I am looking forward to the opportunity provided to me by the ICC and my view is that I need to treat this game like any other, and I know if I focus on just bowling well, then I will give myself a better chance of taking wickets, even if I am bowling against some of the greatest players in world cricket.
During my time on the staff with the MCC, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to bowl to some members of the England team in the nets and in practice games, including playing with my hero Andrew Flintoff. Indeed I once got Matt Prior out first ball and I have even broken Monty Panesar’s helmet before with a bouncer in the nets.
I have played quite a bit of club cricket in England and my former team-mates have been sending me some really nice messages on Facebook in the last few days wishing me good luck for the game. I don’t think they can believe they shared a dressing room in club cricket with somebody who will have the chance to play against some of their heroes like Strauss, Bell, Pietersen and Trott this week.
I have always enjoyed playing in the UAE, as we qualified for the World Twenty20 2010 here, we use the country as our main base for matches and I also did very well for the MCC team against Nottinghamshire in Abu Dhabi last April, taking seven wickets in the first-class match and then five wickets in a T20 game, including a hat-trick. The facilities at the ICC Global Cricket Academy are absolutely outstanding and it is a great place to prepare for such a big game.
The weather is ideal for cricket and we all can’t wait to get started on Saturday. Hopefully by doing well in this match we can further the reputations of all Associate and Affiliate players, so that next time I am lining up against England, I am playing for my country in a full ODI or T20 international match.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.