Afghanistan crowned qualifying kings
Afghanistan 147 for 2 (Shahzad 65, Johnston 1-28) beat Ireland 142 for 8 (Cusack 28, Nangal 3-23) by eight wickets with 15 balls remaining
Riding on the crest of a wave that carried them through to the World Twenty20 earlier in the day, Afghanistan finished the qualifying tournament in style cantering to victory over Ireland in the final by eight wickets.
After the tension of the two 'semi final' matches that saw both teams secure their place in the Caribbean, the final had a festival air to it under the bright lights of the Dubai International Stadium. With the crowd already in good cheer and the players' minds uncluttered by the pressure of needing a win, the Afghanistan batsmen blazed happily away at Ireland's total with Mohammad Shahzad guiding them home with a boundary-filled 65 that secured his team passage into Group C, alongside South Africa and India, in the main event in May.
It's a bizarre quirk of the fixture list that means runners-up Ireland will be in Group D, which features, on paper at least, the slightly easier prospects of England and West Indies. Afghanistan, however, won't mind a jot and will feel like they can beat anyone following their triumph today
Their win was built on a solid bowling effort after Ireland captain William Porterfield, as has become his custom, won the toss and chose to bat. He started brightly taking nine from the first over and, together with stalwart Niall O'Brien adding 42 in five overs before mishitting an attempted swipe down the ground off the wily offspin of Mohammad Nabi. It brought Alex Cusack to the wicket, barely hours after he blasted Ireland to victory over Netherlands.
Despite the loss of O'Brien at the other end, his good form continued and he made 28 before missing an attempted pull shot at Samiullah Shenwari and being stumped. Kevin O'Brien's sketchy form continued as he was out the next delivery pulling Nowroz Mangal, the Afghanistan captain, straight to midwicket for 2.
Mangal ended with two more wickets as the Ireland lower-order flayed without much success at some disciplined Afghani bowling. Trent Johnston helped carry the total to 137 before he was out the first ball of the final over, driving Shapoor Zadran straight to cover.
Needing 143 for victory Karim Sadiq launched the innings as if the target was double. He smacked three fours off Johnston's first over and didn't look back thereafter, smiting Peter Connell for a mighty six over long on his way to 34 from 17 balls. By the time he was beaten for pace by a Johnston short ball and caught at midwicket, Afghanistan had taken the bite out of the required run rate and, with Shahzad looking set, needed 105 from more than 16 overs.
He and Noor Ali, the hero from the earlier game against UAE, added 52 in less than eight overs, with Ali providing a useful foil to Shahzad's more expansive approach. When Ali eventually fell for 16, Mangal and Shahzad calmly chipped away at the total with quick running and the occasional big shot.
With 20 needed from 24 balls, Cusack had an over to forget. He started by firing a wide past the advancing batsman and wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien, which went for four and was then clubbed handsomely over cover by Mangal for another boundary. The over cost 15 and the result was a formality with three overs left. Shahzad finished it off in style, carving a short ball over cover for six to crown the best day in Afghanistan's cricketing history.