Afghanistan's impressive showing in their opening Intercontinental Cup match against Zimbabwe XI in Mutare has given coach Kabir Khan a chance to hit back at critics who had said his team was fortunate to feature in the competition and were unprepared for the challenge.
Wednesday's draw against Zimbabwe followed an encouraging performance at April's ICC World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa. Afghanistan fell one win short of gaining a place at the 2011 World Cup but they secured ODI status. In Mutare, an authoritative performance helped them take nine points on account of their first-innings lead, compared to three for Zimbabwe.
"Some people thought we may have been lucky to finish in the top 10 at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier and that it was a fluke, but I think that we are going to be one of the top teams in this tournament," Kabir said. "People said that they thought we could only play one-day cricket and that we would be trying to hit every ball, but we have proved them wrong as well. We have answered a lot of critics and showed that we rightly qualified for this.
"We are really pleased at how we did in our opening first-class game. I never expected that. Our warm-up matches in Kabul helped us a lot and we played very professionally here. It looked like we had been playing the game for a long time."
Kabir singled out Noor Ali for praise. Noor and Zimbabwe XI captain Tatenda Taibu scored a century in each innings of the match. "It was a great effort from Noor Ali and he was very professional in the way he batted. I hope the way he is playing he will score a lot of runs at this level," Kabir said.
Taibu was also impressed with the performance of Afghanistan and he said they were a lot better than he expected. "They batted very well in defence, but they could probably work on putting away the bad ball, as they missed out on some of the bad balls that we bowled," Taibu said.
The 26-year-old felt the Intercontinental Cup would help develop the game in Zimbabwe. "The competition is definitely good for our players as they get to play against different teams in different conditions," Taibu said. "It is good for the up-and-coming players and it will put pressure on the players in the national team and create some competition for places.
"I am always saying to myself, whether I am playing club cricket, first-class cricket or cricket for my country, that I should try and enjoy it, so it was a good thing for me to get away from the real pressure where everybody is looking at you… It was a good track for batting. They were one man down, as one of their bowlers got injured very early on in the game and we took advantage of that."