War-weary Afghanistan has achieved one of its finest sporting moments by qualifying for its first Cricket World Cup.
The Afghans had to beat Kenya in the last match of the World Cricket League Championship yesterday, and won by seven wickets in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
“This is a big day in my life,” player Mohammad Nabi said. “It’s a gift to a young [Afghan] generation.”
Afghanistan edged UAE for the second automatic qualifying spot in the eight-team competition which started in June last year. The Afghans and Ireland, the championship winner, advance to the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“This is the best day of my coaching life,” said a jubilant Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan test cricketer.
A thousand jubilant Afghan fans watched their team’s thumping victory on a giant screen in a stadium in the capital Kabul.
“We don’t want to fight, we want peace,” said Kabul resident Tahir Mustafa while watching the match.
Large crowds of supporters also celebrated in the southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taleban, where police issued strict warnings on the radio before the game that people should not celebrate by firing guns in the air.
Afghanistan finance minister Mohammad Omar Zakhilwal, also a member of the national cricket board, said qualification has brought smiles on the faces of his countrymen.
“Our people have seen years and years of sadness and now we are among the best 12 cricketing nations in the world,” he said. “We will encourage businessmen and the government to support cricket.”
Afghanistan has played in the last two World Twenty20s, but to qualify for a World Cup is remarkable progress for a country which has only a handful of turf pitches.
Most of the players grew up playing in refugee camps in Pakistan.
Nabi was quick to warn the big teams in his pool to watch out for Afghanistan.
“Maybe we know about the weaknesses of some teams… we will do better and do our best to beat some full member teams,” he said.
It was only five years ago when Afghanistan was playing in World Cricket League Division 5 – the lowest ranked tournament among the affiliate members.
Since then Afghanistan has made rapid progress, and its status was raised to an Associate member of the ICC.
UAE also played an important part in the Afghans’ progress, as Sharjah has been their home base for at least two years. They have competed against Australia and Pakistan at Sharjah.
Fast bowler Hamid Hasan helped to restrict Kenya to only seven runs in the first ten overs with some superb swing bowling, and clean-bowled Nelson Odhiambo and Hiren Varaiya off successive deliveries.
“I’ve already lost all my words, but I am so, so happy. This is the happiest day of my life,” Hasan said. “To me it’s an unbelievable dream come true.”