Afghanistan look to upset the big boys
After an astonishing run of victories in Dubai lifted them into this year's ICC World Twenty20, a jubilant Afghanistan team has now set their sights on upsetting some of the leading cricket nations in the Caribbean.
Just over a year ago they were facing lightweights like Fiji and Cayman Islands, but their rapid rise has pitchforked them into the same group as India and South Africa for the World Twenty20, their first top-flight tournament. "We will be working hard to upset one of the teams," batting allrounder Karim Sadiq told AFP.
Sadiq expected a massive welcome from fans when the team reached home from Dubai, but said the focus will soon switch to preparing for the World Twenty20, beginning on April 30. "People in my country are very happy, and there will be big celebrations in Afghanistan when we return," he said. "I think maybe three million people will come to the city to celebrate and dance."
He was brimming with confidence and unfazed at the prospect of facing some of the world's quickest bowlers during the World Twenty20. "I will go to Afghanistan and practice on a 14-metre wicket against fast bowlers where the ball will be coming at 160-165 kmh," he said. "Dale Steyn will be no problem. He bowls at 150 or 145 kmh - we have Hamid Hassan who bowls at 145 and Shapoor Zadran and we hit sixes in every over off them back in Afghanistan."
His team-mate Raees Ahmadzai, a legspinner, was also bullish and hopeful of standing up to the best players around. "Our players want to match players like Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni," Ahmadzai said. "We want to see the grounds in the West Indies and show the world that we are not behind the other teams and show everybody that Afghanistan is one of the best cricket teams in the world."
It has been a dizzying rise for Afghanistan, who won ODI status ten months ago but narrowly missed out on qualifying for the World Cup in 2011. In their strife-torn nation, the team's rapid progress has already made them heroes and a source of hope.