Afghanistan players eye heroes' welcome
The Afghanistan players are expecting a huge reception back home in Kabul after winning the World Cricket League Division 3 in Argentina. The team left Buenos Aires on Sunday night and will arrive in Afghanistan on Tuesday, and fast bowler Hamid Hassan was anticipating a large crowd turning out to greet them.
"I am very excited about seeing them," he said. "When we won Division 4 in Tanzania there were lots of people at the airport. So as we have won Division 3, there will be even more people there, blocking the roads and celebrating by banging drums.
"I really enjoy the celebrations as we have such great fans. The people in Afghanistan pray for us and are waiting for the trophy to come home so we can all celebrate together."
However, the players also know they have plenty of hard work to put in if they are to realise their dream of playing in the 2011 World Cup, and once the party is over it will be straight back to work, preparing for the World Cup Qualifiers beginning April 1.
Hamid, himself, will be off to play first-class cricket in Pakistan after a couple of days' rest in Peshawar, and the team is expected to get together either in India or Pakistan in early March for a training camp ahead of the qualifiers.
The joy was writ large on wicketkeeper Karim Khan's face as well. "I am very, very happy," he said. "We won Division 5, we won Division 4, now we have won Division 3 and if we all work hard we will get to the World Cup. This is our country's dream and this is my dream, and the Afghan people are very happy.
"I have seen the Afghan websites, I have seen the newspapers and people have said they will be coming to the airport to meet us. Even the president may be coming to see us at the airport."
However, he said the players would need to lift their game if they were to take the final step, though he believed they had the ability to perform well at that level.
"Hopefully, we can beat the likes of Kenya, Bermuda and UAE and get to the World Cup in 2011," said Karim. "It is my dream to play ODIs and face the likes of Pakistan, Australia, England and India. I have faced Shoaib Akhtar from Pakistan, India's Irfan Pathan and Australia's Mitchell Johnson in the nets, and I want to play them in a real match."
Karim will be back in training with former Pakistan wicketkeeper Rashid Latif, who acted as his personal coach in the build-up to the event in Argentina, and helped him improve his game.
"I sent an email to Rashid Latif to thank him for all his hard work with me," said Karim. "I used to be an offspinner but now I am a very good wicketkeeper. Rashid has invited me for more training in Karachi in 15 days' time so I am going for more hard work on my wicketkeeping and my batting."
|It would be amazing to come from the refugee camps and play cricket with the big nations and try and beat a Test-playing country. That would be the greatest achievement of our livesRaees Ahmadzai, Afghanistan middle-order batsman|
Middle-order batsman Raees Ahmadzai also believed that Afghanistan would need to raise their game to do well at the qualifiers. "I am very happy that I am going to play for my country in the World Cup Qualifier but we need to work on our game and avoid the mistakes we made against Uganda, and in the first match against the Cayman Islands," said Raees.
"Our first priority is to qualify for the top six - that will be our first target so that we can play ODIs for the next four years. We want to get through to the second stage of the competition and try and get in the top four, as that would be a real gift for the Afghan people. It would be amazing to come from the refugee camps and play cricket with the big nations and try and beat a Test-playing country. That would be the greatest achievement of our lives," he said.
The top four sides from the qualifiers will go on to feature in the 2011 World Cup, while a top-six finish will secure ODI status for the next four years, as well as automatic qualification for the Intercontinental Cup.
Afghanistan progressed as the first qualifier and will be placed in Group B alongside Kenya, The Netherlands, Bermuda, UAE and Denmark. Uganda will be up against Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Oman and Namibia in Group A.
The fixtures for the qualifiers in South Africa from April 1-19 will be released shortly.