Far from humiliated, Afghanistan want more matches
Eliminated but far from embarrassed. Afghanistan need feel no shame at all as they depart the World Twenty20. Getting here was one of the sporting stories of all time and they certainly haven't disgraced themselves against India and South Africa. Now their coach, Kabir Khan, wants the cricketing world to embrace Afghanistan and help them sustain their development by inviting the team for one-day and Twenty20 matches.
Afghanistan can't play matches at home - and it will be years until they can - and facilities are limited to one grass pitch so it will need wholehearted philanthropy from the global game to help. They currently have ODI status and Khan called on the top nations to give his side a chance in limited-overs matches to ensure the players' growth can continue.
"They have to play a lot more than a game or two. We've got ODI status and we can play Twenty20 internationals against any country in the world so the teams need to invite us," Khan said. "They could invite players for training camps, they could invite them into the domestic games as professional or semi-professional, we don't mind, but they should play cricket.
"We want all the big cricket countries to help us in that. We've got talent, the boys are quite ready. They are quick learners and we expect that all the cricket nations watching us will help in that regard."
Khan hopes that being on television in front of millions will have been the ideal shop window for a number of his players and that they might attract interest from overseas. "It was good to see them on the television and they have been exposed," he said.
"As a coach that's what I'm happy about because we want them to play tough professional cricket in other countries with a contract in South Africa, Australia, England or India. The main aim is to play for their country, but to get professional cricket they have to play the top countries. If you want to get used to facing the likes of [Dale] Steyn or [Morne] Morkel, or anyone on top of the world, they have to play against them in domestic cricket."
When the Afghanistan chase crashed to 32 for 8 against the type of pace bowling they'd never seen before it appeared they would leave with the unwanted record of the lowest Twenty20 international score. However, spirit and fight oozes through the line-up and gutsy innings from Mirwais Ashraf and Hamid Hassan, who earlier bowled superbly to take 3 for 21, hauled them above Kenya's 67.
"They were really quick, bowling at 90mph and there was swing as well so it was very difficult for our batsmen to face them," captain Nowroz Mangal said. "They got early wickets and took the game from us."
And there was some style about the lower-order display, too, as the ninth-wicket pair hit four sixes between them, including one by Ashraf, off Albie Morkel, that cleared the Garry Sobers Pavilion and bounced into the net area. That followed a highly accomplished bowling display where South Africa were made to work hard for each of their 139 runs with Jacques Kallis' 34 the top score as Mangal led from the front with three fine catches.
Hassan lived up to his billing as the team's poster boy with a display of death bowling as good as anything in the tournament so far. He, along with allrounder Mohammad Nabi, are two Afghanistan players who have had a taste of cricket overseas after they both were part of the MCC Young Cricketers scheme, while Nabi also plays domestically in Pakistan.
"As a coach I am quite satisfied with their performance against the two top nations in the world - cricket wise and facilities wise - and they performed well," Khan said. "Against India there was all sorts of pressure on them; there was television, there were the big stars, there was the crowd and they coped with it very well. Today, to restrict a batting line-up like South Africa to 139 is a big achievement so there are all sorts of pluses for them.
"The key is they need to be exposed to that pressure again and again and then they'll get used to it. On a bowling machine you can put it to 90mph but you can't have Dale Steyn bowling at you and swinging the ball. So you have to face those bowlers to get the experience. Because my team are quick learners when they play against South Africa or India again they will do much better."
From the summit of playing South Africa at one of world's finest cricket grounds Afghanistan now step back to the Associate level which they are beginning to dominate, but this experience will have left with them with a lifetime of memories. Now they want some help to make sure they come back again.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo