x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Afghanistan dash UAE hopes, earn spot in Cricket World Cup

The Afghans dispatched Kenya with ease on Friday, reaching the required 94 in 20.5 overs with seven wickets remaining.

Mohammad Nabi plays a shot in Afghanistan's seven-wicket win over Kenya at Sharjah on Friday. The victory clinches a spot in the 2015 World Cup for the Afghans. Pawan Singh / The National
Mohammad Nabi plays a shot in Afghanistan's seven-wicket win over Kenya at Sharjah on Friday. The victory clinches a spot in the 2015 World Cup for the Afghans. Pawan Singh / The National

SHARJAH // Poor old President Hamid Karzai.

Somebody had to stay at home and run the country. At least they reckon he was able to watch the live TV broadcast.

But, still. No Afghan worth the name would have wanted to miss this.

As such, five members of his parliament did make it to Sharjah Cricket Stadium to witness history.

At the end of it all, it was mission accomplished: Australia and New Zealand and the rest of the 2015 World Cup, here they come. Watch out world.

“We dreamed this day would happen, that we would be heroes, but now it is real,” said Samiullah Shenwari, the all-rounder who was there when the Afghan cricket story started just over a decade ago.

“We can’t describe how happy we are. When we ran to celebrate in front of the crowd, I can’t tell you if we were running or not. We were so emotional.

“We were flying.”

Floating on a wave of euphoria bouncing down from stands full of baying Afghan supporters.

The ICC even charged a Dh20 entry fee for the decisive World Cricket League fixture against Kenya.

It was first time they have done so for a match at this level – and supporters still came in droves.

“It is a very popular game in Afghanistan now, as you can see by the fact parliamentarians came to support us,” said Mohammed Nabi, the captain. “This was the most important game in our cricket lives. Knowing if we won it, we would qualify for the World Cup, meant so much to us.

“When I hit the winning shot I was so happy because we had qualified for the World Cup and this was the biggest achievement in my life.”

The biggest losers from Afghanistan’s seven-wicket win over Kenya were not even the vanquished African opponents. Rather, it was the ground’s landlords.

The hardy part-timers of the UAE national cricket team will feel empty today. They were on the brink of direct access to the World Cup, only to be scotched at the last by the Afghans.

It is a familiar feeling.

The UAE have an unhappy knack of having the door to major events shut on them just as they have reached the front of the queue.

They still have a shot at qualifying, via a second-chance tournament in New Zealand, next year.

Participation in that will feel like a grind, though, given how close they have come. Moreover, Afghanistan’s success has UAE fingerprints all over it.

While they are in exile, Afghanistan’s home ground is on loan from Sharjah, while Kabir Khan, their coach, has twice coached the UAE team.

The former Pakistan seam-bowler was uncharacteristically emotional after their passage to the World Cup was achieved.

He could be forgiven for feeling that way.

“We were in a pressure cooker until today,” Kabir said.

“It has gone now. The pressure cooker has opened and we are just where we wanted to be and I am really happy.

“This is one of the golden days of my life.

“I think I’m a tough person. I don’t get emotional, people can’t read my face when the pressure is on, but this is one of the few days when I have some tears in my eyes.”

Shenwari agreed with his coach that this was one of the great days – the best of his life, in fact.

“We hoped we could go to the last World Cup but we missed it,” Shenwari said.

“Through hard work and more hard work we reached this day, and we managed to do it.

“This is thanks to all the prayers of our country, for our families’ support, and we are so thankful. This is the best day of my life.

“For the first time in our history, Afghanistan will be playing at the World Cup. This is a big day for our country.”