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Afghanistan's victorious cricketers, who were the toast of Kabul on Tuesday, realise they will have to meet greater challenges in order to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. The team, whose top-place finish at the ICC World Cricket League Division 3 in Argentina earned them a spot at the World Cup Qualifiers in April, was greeted by enthusiastic fans on their return to Kabul, and even had a small parade through the city. However, the lack of financial backing remains a worry.
"We never even thought we could expect to do so well," the team's secretary-general, Taj Malik, told AFP. "But the team's main test is still ahead of us." Afghanistan need to make it to the semi-finals of the qualifying tournament in South Africa to ensure a place at the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent.
Afghanistan's progress towards the World Cup dream has been remarkable - they also won Divisions 4 and 5 - and Malik said the team's achievement was historic given that the they had come together in 2002, after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime. "We thought that maybe in 2015 or 2020 we could be where we are today."
He said the players will rest for 20 days before starting their preparations for the World Cup Qualifiers. "We will try to strengthen the weaknesses of our team. We will prepare our team for the toughness of the World Cup," he said.
Malik said the team, many of whose players honed their skills in refugee camps in Pakistan, had not got financial support from the government. "So far they have not been given a salary, no one has given them any benefits," he said. "It is important to improve the life of the players if we want to see them in the World Cup."
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
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Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.