Afghanistan on brink of 'national celebration'
Afghanistan need just one more win in the World Cricket League (WCL) Championship to secure a first ever World Cup berth and write another heartwarming chapter in the nation's cricketing story. Victory over Kenya, the team they crushed by eight wickets on Wednesday, will move them into second in the table and an automatic spot at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Afghanistan became an ICC Affiliate member in 2001, only receiving Associate status earlier this year. They narrowly missed out on reaching the 2011 World Cup, despite starting the qualification process in the bottom group, but have provided a colourful presence at the last two World Twenty20s.
"It's a big achievement for Afghanistan cricket and Afghanistan to qualify for the World Cup in 2015," Mohammad Nabi, the team's captain, said. "We've got one more game left and if we win on Friday, we will celebrate - the team will be celebrating and the whole nation will be celebrating that win."
Beating Kenya for the second time in three days would lift Afghanistan to 19 points, behind Ireland, who have already guaranteed their World Cup place. The match in Sharjah is the final fixture in the WCL Championship, which began more than two years ago. Should Afghanistan slip up, then UAE will be the beneficiaries, going through to the World Cup proper for the first time since 1996.
Afghanistan will again rely on players such as bandana-wearing fast bowler Hamid Hassan, who took 4 for 19 on Wednesday, former captain Nawroz Mangal and fellow opener Mohammad Shahzad, purveyor of his own version of the "helicopter shot".
"Thanks to our nation and to our supporters who came here to support our team, as well as the players who played really well, our fast bowler Hamid Hassan and spin bowler Samiullah Shenwari," Nabi said after the game. "We will now try even harder for our next game to play positively."
Should they progress, then fixtures against the hosts, Australia and New Zealand, as well as England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Pool A will await. The six remaining teams in the WCL Championship will have another chance to get to the 2015 World Cup, via a one-off qualifying tournament, to be held in New Zealand early next year, taking on Hong Kong, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Uganda to determine the final two spots.