x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fans tune in and world takes notice as Afghanistan dominate over Scotland

Two wins from two in the World Cricket League at Sharjah as Kabir Khan's men claim readiness to break into the world elite.

An all-round display by Mohammed Nabi proved crucial for Afghanistan. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
An all-round display by Mohammed Nabi proved crucial for Afghanistan. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Look out, world, the Afghans are coming. Two matches in the World Cricket League in Sharjah, two wins.

Meaning four to go and then the have-nots from Afghanistan could be playing World Cup cricket against the most celebrated sides in the game.

"We are back in play now," Kabir Khan, the Afghan coach, said after Samiullah Shenwari and Mohammed Nabi orchestrated a five wicket win that takes Afghanistan up to third in the pursuit of one of two qualifying berths for 2015.

"We are up there with the top teams, now we have to look at what happens in other games."

The cricket world should definitely be ready for Afghanistan by now. Given everything this triumph narrative brings to the sport, the welcome mat should be down for them already.

While the result of this match was vital to the aspirations of these two teams, in many ways its importance was secondary on another day of celebration for cricket beyond the mainstream.

With free admission for a Friday fixture, there were approximately 7,000 people inside Sharjah Cricket Stadium at the game's peak.

If this is what cricket looks like because of the Afghan expatriate population in Sharjah, imagine what it would be like if the international game ever comes to pass in Jalalabad, or Khost, or Kabul.

Happily, though, you do not necessarily have to be there in person to enjoy the emergence of these cricketers any more.

At one point during Afghanistan's run chase, more than 14,000 people were logged on to the live feed of the match shown on the ICC's website.

Those who prefer a Pashtu soundtrack had options, too. Two members of staff from a Kabul-based radio station, Salam Watandar (meaning Hello, countryman), were present thanks to the benevolence of a UAE based sponsor.

According to Ibrahim Momand, the producer of their cricket coverage here in Sharjah, 52 separate networks in Afghanistan requested the feed of their live transmission. He estimated that there may have been as many as 9 million listeners.

"Coming to the ground today, Afghan supporters were asking which one was Momand," he said, proudly reporting he had received messages from Afghans listening to the cricket in Russia and Switzerland.

Given the variety of viewing platforms available, it was perhaps a surprise to see Phil Simmons, the Ireland coach, in the main stand taking notes.

His side play here against the UAE in two matches later this month which could all but seal their place at the next World Cup.

Despite the outstanding efforts of the centurion Kyle Coetzer, Scotland's hopes of automatic qualification via this competition suffered a dent via their two defeats here.

Their captain Gordon Drummond, who believed the Afghans were "more fearless" than his side, said the visitors are envious of the following the opposition have.

"Playing Afghanistan in their back yard was always going to be challenging but this is what it is about," said Drummond, whose side will look to arrest a run of four defeats against the same opposition in Abu Dhabi next week.

"Associate cricketers have to get used to playing in front of big atamospheres because that is what you get at World Cups.

"Afghanistan get a great following and it is something we are envious of sometimes back in Scotland. They are the 12th and 13th man."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE