South African pace man working through the gears to reach top speed for Derbyshire
For a bowler who occupies the fast lane, it was not easy for Hardus Viljoen to find himself on the equivalent of the hard shoulder when he started his career with Derbyshire.
The 28-year-old South African was signed on a three year contract to provide the X factor the county lost when Mark Footitt moved south to Surrey at the end of the 2015 season.
An inability to take 20 wickets in a match last year prompted director of cricket Kim Barnett to move for Viljoen who is capable of exceeding 90mph and had an impressive short spell with Kent towards the end of the 2016 season.
But frustratingly for both club and player, a knee injury flared up in training and kept Viljoen out of the opening two County Championship matches and the start of the Royal London One-Day cup games.
He played in the closing five North Group games and will make his four day bow for Derbyshire when the County Championship programme resumes against Worcestershire at the 3aaa County Ground on Friday.
Viljoen is slowly building up to full bowling fitness and while his three late wickets in the one-day cup on Tuesday could not prevent another defeat, it was a glimpse of the quality Derbyshire invested in.
“While I didn’t feel I bowled the best that I could on Tuesday night, three wickets is a stepping stone in the right direction although I wasn’t over-happy with my performance,” he said.
“Every time I walk on the park I do my absolute best but it’s a process you need to follow and trust your body and you can only do as much as your body allows you to.”
A conversation with South African bowling legend Dale Steyn, who has had more than his share of injury frustration in the last year, reminded Viljoen of the need for patience.
“I had a chat with Dale and he kept telling me a Ferrari doesn’t pull away in fifth gear, you have to go through the gears.
“If you’re realistic as a fast bowler you know along the road you are going to get challenges and niggles, that’s part of the game and any professional sport, so you try and prepare your body as best you can but you will never be immune against injuries.
“So for me it’s trying to get to 100 per cent fitness body wise but running in and bowling at 145 kilometers an hour doesn’t happen overnight.”
Viljoen’s ability to deliver vivid pace should help Derbyshire improve on last year’s winless County Championship campaign and he admitted: “I’m looking forward to playing with the red ball, I had a good spell with Kent last year.
“There’s a fine line between being aggressive and consistent and it’s a learning curve for me still. I’m trying to sum up how the wickets will play because back home you know what you are getting at all the different grounds so this is a new experience.”