Afghanistan beats Kenya to earn place in Cricket World Cup for 1st time
Players of the Afghanistan cricket team practice during a training session in Lahore, Pakistan in this January 2013 file photo. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Published Friday, October 4, 2013 10:12AM EDT
War-weary Afghanistan achieved one of its finest sporting moments by qualifying for its first Cricket World Cup on Friday.
The Afghans had to beat Kenya in the last match of the World Cricket League Championship, and won by seven wickets in a canter in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
"This is a big day in my life," allrounder 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.
Afghanistan bowled out Kenya for a mere 93 runs in 43.3 overs with spinners Nabi, Hamza Hotak, and Karim Sadiq sharing seven wickets.
Nabi then scored an unbeaten 46 off 42 balls and hit the winning boundary as Afghanistan raced to a triumphant 96-3 in only 20.5 overs.
"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 capital Kabul.
"We don't want fight, we want peace," said Tahir Mustafa, a resident of Kabul while watching the match.
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.
Come 2015, they will be in a World Cup pool with Australia, New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and another qualifier yet to be determined. Two more Associate teams, like Afghanistan and Ireland, will have a chance to qualify in New Zealand next year.
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.
But since then Afghanistan has made rapid progress, and its status was raised to an Associate member of the ICC.
"Afghanistan's journey has been a remarkable one," ICC chief executive David Richardson said in congratulating the team.
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 in ODIs at Sharjah.
In 2010, Afghanistan qualified for the World Twenty20 in West Indies, and last year played in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. Afghanistan didn't win a match in either.
Khan said he hoped ICC full member neighbours such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will help Afghanistan prepare for the World Cup by playing ODIs with them.
"It's always helpful when you play against full member countries, unfortunately we don't get much chance to play against them," he said. "I think at least neighbouring countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka should help us."
With time to prepare, Khan hopes Afghanistan makes a statement in 2015.
"We just want to leave our mark (at the World Cup) and we want other teams to notice us," he said.
Fast bowler Hamid Hasan helped to restrict Kenya to only seven runs in the first 10 overs with some superb swing bowling, and clean-bowled tailenders Nelson Odhiambo and Hiren Varaiya off successive deliveries.
"I've already lost all my words, but I am so, so happy. This is the most happiest day of my life," Hasan said. "To me it's an unbelievable dream come true."