DUBAI // The idea of facing the world's leading bowling attack, with barely any sheen lost from the new ball, on a dewy pitch, with the score reading 10 for three would probably have caused palpitations for most Abu Dhabi storekeepers.
Saqib Ali had a little bit of form to fall back on, however. Having regularly sparred with Shoaib Akhtar in Pakistan before he moved to work in the UAE, standing in the firing line against Steve Finn and Stuart Broad for the ICC Combined XI on Saturday was perhaps not so daunting.
The UAE's lone representative in the governing body's select XI said he did not feel overawed by his time at the crease as he made 14 from 47 balls against England on Oval Two at the Global Cricket Academy. Neither did he look it.
"The big difference was they are more disciplined than the bowlers we face, not just the fact they are quick," Saqib said.
"They bowl with discipline and wait for us to play bad shots to take our wickets.
"When I got out I tried to hit the ball too hard, when I had just been nudging the ball around till then."
The ICC's experiment of fielding a side of players from their Associate member nations looked to be heading towards grizzly failure when they faltered to 10 for three within the first six overs of the game.
However, the reparations which Saqib started – when he was out the score was 52 for four – were continued by the bullish Afghan wicketkeeper-batsman, Mohammed Shahzad.
His sparkling counter-attacking half-century was dotted with a couple of verbal jousts with bowlers, Finn in particular, who are seemingly twice his height.
Once he departed, the stage was clear for Christi Viljoen. The all-rounder, who was raised in Pretoria but represents Namibia, arrived at the wicket with a first-class batting average of a shade under 16.
He finished up with a handshake from the majority of the England players when he was the last of the Associate batsmen out.
He would have traded each of them for two more runs, as he fell agonisingly on 98 while chasing a maiden ton.
"I was wishing for the wind to take the ball farther and hopefully take it over the boundary, but unfortunately it didn't," Viljoen said.
"I was gutted when James Anderson caught that ball, but in the end it was a good performance for the team which made me happy as well."
Chances like this come around rarely in the career of cricketers from beyond the Test world, and Viljoen was grateful for his moment in the sun. "I have been waiting for this moment all my life, the chance to play against one of the top teams in the world," he said.
"When I got out there I was nervous at the start, but once the pitch got flatter it became easier, and I didn't think, just batted."
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and Paul Radley
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