They were dancing in the streets - Hamid Hassan
Hamid Hassan is still soaking up the achievements of the weekend when he helped Afghanistan qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 as they won the qualifying event in Dubai. Hassan, one of the team's key bowlers, played a leading role in the triumph with a tournament haul of 12 wickets at 11.14, including 3 for 14 in the Super Fours victory against USA, and has since been savouring the messages of congratulation on his blog and Facebook page.
While events in Afghanistan are making the news headlines as coalition forces launch a huge offensive against the Taliban, the cricketer's success a few hours away in the Middle East gave much-need opportunity for some joy. The trophy, which was secured with a thumping eight-wicket victory against Ireland, capped a remarkable rise through the cricket ranks for a side that two years ago were playing in Division Five of the World Cricket League. In March last year they narrowly missed out qualifying for the 2011 World Cup although did enough to earn ODI status and this time ensured they didn't pull up short of the main prize.
"I've got a lot of messages on my Facebook fan page and have lots of calls from back home," Hassan told Cricinfo from Sharjah, where the team are now preparing for one-day internationals against Canada. "Everyone was very happy and when we won the final two nights ago they all came out onto the road and celebrated all night until about three or four in the morning. Everyone is waiting for us to go home so we can celebrate together.
"It's a dream come true for us and a fantastic achievement for Afghanistan so all the people at home are very happy and are waiting for us to come back to Afghanistan," he added. "Nobody knows about Afghanistan for sports so this is a good step for us to get a title and qualify for the World Cup to play against sides like India and South Africa. Everyone is happy and just wanted to celebrate."
And taking on two of the strongest sides in the world holds no fears for Hassan who is eager to pit his skills against the likes of Virender Sehwag. "I'll try my best to get him out and hope he doesn't get many runs against us," he said.
Afghanistan's story is so remarkable that anything now seems possible for this group of players who have defied huge odds to sit among the top table. Hassan's ambitions certainly hold no bounds and having fulfilled one dream of reaching the Caribbean he also hopes to be able to continue his career overseas, either in England or the IPL.
"I'd love to play county cricket in England and I'm always looking for a chance," he said. "Or if I get a chance in the IPL I'll do my best. If I play for a county I'd want it to be with Lancashire because Andrew Flintoff plays for them and he's my favourite player."
Hassan bowled to Flintoff in the nets at Lord's while he was an MCC Young Cricketer, but although the England allrounder now lives in Dubai Hassan didn't have the chance to meet his hero. However, he hopes that in the near future Flintoff will be able to watch an Afghanistan match.
"I met him when I was with MCC and practised with him for four days at Lord's. I bowled at him and he was a very good guy," Hassan said. "He's a very nice and a cool man. I'd love to have met him in Dubai but I couldn't find time out to go and see him and also he didn't have time to come and see how the Afghanistan team were playing. I wish he would come and see us play."
While he is still idolising Flintoff, Hassan himself is rapidly becoming a national hero back home and hopes to inspire a new generation of Afghanistan cricketers with, Hassan believes, the promise of a better life.
"We have had a very short period of cricket but have had a big achievement for the country so lots of players are coming through in the Under-10 and Under-11 age groups," he said. "They are now playing cricket on the streets, roads and everywhere. People are loving cricket now and I hope after that we have a good future for our youngsters."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo