DUBAI // Perhaps now Hamid Karzai will get the drift. The last time the Afghan President met with the trailblazing national cricket team, of which his compatriots are so rightly proud, he quizzed the coach on the rudiments of the "BMW law". "The first thing he needed to know was that it is the lbw rule," said Kabir Khan, the Peshawari coach who has overseen the remarkable rise of the side in the past 18 months from 130-plus to 15th in the world rankings.
And the cliche had claimed that it was Americans who would never understand cricket. Yesterday's 29-run victory over the USA meant the undefeated Afghans are now, in all probability, one win away from playing at the World Twenty20. Apart from the obvious significance of playing on the game's biggest stage, it also brings closer the prospect of playing in front of a global television audience. Pakistan's players, especially the Pashto-speaking Shahid Afridi, are well-known among Afghans.
But their own countrymen have never played a match on live TV before. "In the last two or three years Afghanistan cricket has come up a lot," said Mohammed Nabi, the side's leading player, who plies his trade professionally in Pakistan. "Now the people all know cricket. I am very famous - not by face, but by name, because there are no live matches. "Now we have ODI status, but nobody wants to play against us. We want live matches against the players who are famous in our country."
Despite the lack of appearances in front of their public, the Afghan side are already a popular unifying force in their homeland. The vast majority of the 30 million people, who became refugees in neighbouring Pakistan, have a working knowledge of the game far superior to that of their President. As such, the team's successes have been followed intently. Salaam Watander, meaning 'Hello countryman', is a radio station which has sent two of its staff, thanks to a goodwill gesture of funding from the US, to the UAE to cover these qualifiers.
In the three hours it took for them to beat Scotland on Wednesday, in excess of 800 calls had been patched through to them from their listeners back at home. Their players also celebrated yesterday's win in front of more than 1,500 flag-waving Afghans in the crowd at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. "Inshallah, we are just one game away from the World Cup now," said Hamid Hassan, the fast bowler who was named man of the match for his three wickets.
"They were absolutely brilliant - what more can a coach expect of his team," added Kabir. Defeat spelt the end of the road for the USA, but they had at least performed well enough here to justify their invitation. They had the consolation of an opening day win over Scotland, and the game back at home has also been boosted by news Indian Premier League games may be staged Stateside. Ireland also progressed to the last four with Afghanistan, after they inflicted a third straight defeat on Scotland, by 37 runs.