Afghanistan’s cricketers, who learned the game as refugees and once converted downed military helicopters into changing rooms, believe destiny is on their side as they target the 2011 World Cup.
The Afghan team booked their place in April’s World Cup qualifying tournament in South Africa on Saturday with an 82-run win over the Cayman Islands.
The win put them top of World League Division Three and ensured a third successive promotion, all achieved just eight years after being affiliated to the International Cricket Council.
Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan claimed that there was no reason why his team cannot make it to the 2011 World Cup finals to be held in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
“I’m personally quite confident and hopeful we can do it,” said Kabir, a former Pakistan Test player.
In April’s qualifier, Afghanistan and Uganda, who finished second in Division Three, will join Kenya, Scotland, the Netherlands, Canada, Ireland, Bermuda, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Namibia and Denmark and battle for the four places available at the World Cup. A place in the top six would also guarantee one-day international status for the next four years.
“I’m very proud. It is the happiest day of my life and a golden day in the history of Afghanistan cricket. It is a great achievement and I can’t believe the way the boys have done it,” Kabir said. “I know quite a bit about some of the other teams [who will be in South Africa], but first we are going to enjoy our victory. There will be lots of invites for players to events and lots of television interviews, but after that we are going to sit down and plan a training camp in either Pakistan or India.”
The qualifying tournament in South Africa runs from April 1 to April 19.
Afghanistan did it the hard way, however, after coming perilously close to losing to the Caymans on Friday before the match was abandoned because of rain.
On Saturday, at the second time of asking, they were a team transformed, posting 230-8 in 50 overs, with skipper Norooz Mangal leading the way with 70 and Asghar Stanikzai making 66 not out. The Cayman Islands were bowled out for 148, with Mohammad Nabi taking 4-23.
“This is a very big day in the history of Afghanistan cricket,” Norooz said. “It will be very hard work in South Africa and we will be playing against some very difficult teams, but I think if we all work very hard in the next few months we have a very good chance of making it to the World Cup.”
Afghanistan finished top of the six-nation group with four wins in five matches. Papua New Guinea also had four wins, but missed out because of an inferior run rate.
Uganda finished their program with a 99-run win over hosts Argentina.
They struggled to 182 all out, before Argentina were dismissed for a paltry 83. The Caymans and Argentina were both relegated.