Christi Viljoen, the Namibia medium-pacer, has said he had waited all his life for an opportunity to play against a top international team, and was determined to do well for the ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI in their three-day match against England at the Global Cricket Academy ground in Dubai. Viljoen was picked in the Combined XI primarily as a bowler, but impressed with the bat on the first day, scoring 98 to help his team recover from 122 for 7 to 281.
It was Viljoen's highest score in first-class cricket, and only his third half-century. He said he usually found it hard to bat down the order - his previous best of 87 came batting at No. 3 against Ireland - but raised his game because he realised the importance of the occasion.
"When I first got to Namibia, every time I batted up the order I got runs," Viljoen, who was born and raised in South Africa, said. "Then, when senior players came back I had to move back down, and I find it difficult to bat later down the order. But today I just buckled down, and tried to stay there and not get out because it is a massive opportunity and hopefully I have used my chance."
Namibia did not qualify for the 2011 World Cup, so Viljoen had never played against a Test-playing nation in any form of the game before. Coming out to face the World No. 1's Test team, England, with his side tottering at 90 for 6, he said he was quite nervous.
"I've been waiting for an opportunity like this all my life: to play against one of the top teams. When I first got out there I was a bit nervous, but once the pitch got a bit flatter it got easier and then I just didn't really think, and just batted and enjoyed the occasion."
Two runs short of what would have been his maiden first-class hundred, Viljoen was caught by James Anderson in the deep. "I was willing the ball to go further and get to the boundary," Viljoen said. "I thought I was on the way to my maiden first-class hundred and I was gutted when James Anderson caught that ball. But it was a good performance for my team so I am happy with that."
Viljoen began the ICC XI's recovery in the company of Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad, who scored 51, before putting on 96 for the ninth wicket with Ireland fast bowler Boyd Rankin. "Shahzad played amazingly well," Viljoen said. "When I was batting with him it was easy because I just gave the strike to him and he played some amazing shots. Then Boyd supported me really nicely and we had a great partnership going there."
While Viljoen averages just 15.92 with the bat in first-class cricket, it is his 74 wickets from 23 first-class matches at an average of 27.87 that earned him a place in the Combined XI. He is the joint-leading wicket-taker in the ongoing Intercontinental Cup, and will hope to do well with the ball on the second morning, when, he said, there might be a bit in the pitch for the seamers.
"The pitch moves a bit in the morning so we will try to exploit that and get some swing and movement of the track, and get early wickets. Hopefully we can get them out for less than the score we put up and then we will get the chance to bat again."
England are using the match as preparation for their upcoming Test series against Pakistan in the UAE. Viljoen said the English bowlers got some reverse-swing on the first day, which could help them in their series against Pakistan.
"Towards the middle of the day the ball started reversing a bit, which made it a bit difficult. It's England's first warm-up game and with them already getting some reverse, I think if they just keep working on their reverse then they will pick up wickets with the older ball."