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.”
The historic victory sparked mass celebrations in capital Kabul where jubilant Afghans cheered on the streets and more than a thousand fans had been watching the game on a giant screen. After the match the players performed a dance in front of their applauding supporters before rushing across the pitch holding an Afghan flag.
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, Afghanistan’s coach and a former Pakistan Test cricketer.
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.”
Cricket in refugee camps
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