In the times of a bloody conflict, Afghanistan’s national cricket team gave their countrymen a reason to smile on Friday. The war-ravaged nation qualified for the 2015 World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand, their first in quadrennial event.
They achieved this feat with a seven-wicket win over Kenya in Sharjah and finished second behind Ireland in the ICC World Cricket League Championship.
Afghanistan joins Ireland as the second associate member for the WC. Two more places for the associate members are yet to be determined.
Afghanistan are placed in Pool A with joint hosts Australia and New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Qualifier 3. They will play their first World Cup match against Bangladesh on February 18 in Canberra.
Afghanistan captain, 28-year-old Mohammad Nabi, said his team will give a tough fight to the full members.
“Qualifying for the 2015 World Cup is a big achievement for the entire nation. We will try hard and give a tough time to the full members, even try and win against some,” Nabi told dna from Sharjah. “We will show the world that Afghanistan is a good cricket side.”
Nabi guided his side home with an unbeaten 46 while chasing a paltry target of 94. Kenya, who participated in all the World Cup editions since 1996, were bowled out for 93 in 43.3 overs.
Afghanistan surpassed the total in 20.5 overs. Nabi said that “qualifying for the World Cup is good news for the younger generation in Afghanistan”. He added: “The future of Afghanistan cricket is bright. There is plenty of cricket being played in our country. Even the schools cricket is good.”
Afghanistan have done well in sports in recent times. Their football team won the SAFF Cup last month beating India in the final.
“Yes, we are doing well in sports. Especially, cricket and football,” Nabi said.
On how his team will prepare for the World Cup, Nabi said: “We have some matches planned against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I am sure the ICC will also help in preparation for Australia and New Zealand. We will try to have specialised coaches for fielding, batting and try our best at every given opportunity.”
Team manager Shafiq said that cricket has overtaken football as the most popular sport in Afghanistan “following recent accomplishments by the cricket team”.
He said: “Qualifying for the World Cup means a lot for the entire nation. Every single person back home is involved in our qualification, right from the fans to the Parliamentarians to the President Hamid Karzai. This feat will play a huge role in bringing the entire nation together.”
Flooded with congratulatory messages, including one from President Karzai and from the ministers, Shafiq said that his country has “developed a good infrastructure for cricket and has taken the game to every village. Cricket is also part of the school curriculum.” He added that they have “ample time to prepare for the World Cup”.
“In the situation that our country finds itself in, we don’t have to look at the past. We have 498 days for the World Cup. We will plan and work towards implementing it,” he said.
Shafiq and Nabi both said that their coach, Kabir Khan, former Pakistan pacer, played a big role in the team’s success.
Brief Scores: Kenya 93 in 43.3 overs (M Ouma 39; Hamza Hotak 3/19, Karim Sadiq 2/10, Md Nabi 2/10, H Hassan 2-11) lost to Afghanistan 96/3 in 20.5 overs (Md Nabi 46*; S Ngoche 2-30) by 7 wickets
AFGHANISTAN’S JOURNEY SO FAR
Played in ICC World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008
Won qualifiers in UAE to enter the 2010 World Twenty20 in the West Indies
Finished runners-up to Ireland in qualifiers in UAE to enter 2012 World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka
Played in ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup 2010 in New Zealand
Played in ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup 2012 in Australia