Triumphant Afghanistan know 'main test' lies ahead
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 Africa