Afghanistan booked their place in April's qualifying tournament for the 2011 World Cup on Saturday when they defeated the Cayman Islands by 82 runs to finish top of the World Cricket League Division 3.
Afghanistan's remarkable journey from Division 5 to the verge of the World Cup - not to mention ODI status - almost came unstuck yesterday when they were heading towards defeat by Cayman Islands, a result that would have ended the dream. But they were spared by the rain, and today they were back to their best.
Put into bat, Afghanistan recovered from a jittery start to post 230 for 8 in 50 overs. The captain Nowroz Mangal led the way with a 89-ball 70, stroking seven boundaries. But Afghanistan owed plenty to Ashgar Stanikzai, whose unbeaten 66 helped push the total to 230. Stanizkai looked every bit the aggressor, hitting seven fours and a six during his 62-ball innings. Ryan Bovell was the most successful bowler for Cayman Islands, picking up 3 for 55.
The Cayman Islands were never in the hunt and were bowled out for 148, with Mohammad Nabi taking 4 for 23. Nabi struck twice in the first 15 overs, following which Hamid Hassan's medium-pace did for the middle and lower-middle orders. Two more blows to the tail from Nabi completed an impressive win.
"I'm very proud. It is the happiest day of my life and a golden day in the history of Afghanistan cricket," Afghanistan coach, Kabir Khan, said. "It is a great achievement and I can't believe the way the boys have done it. I know quite a bit about some of the other teams [at the World Cup Qualifiers], but first we are going to enjoy our victory.
"There will be lots of invites for players to events and lots of television interviews, but after that we are going to sit down and plan a training camp in either Pakistan or India."
Nowroz, who was named Man of the Match, was also delighted with the win and believed the team were capable of finishing in the top four at the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa, which would ensure qualification for the big event in 2011.
"Today is a very happy day for me as we have won the Division 3 tournament and have made it to the World Cup qualifier," Nowroz said. "It is a very big day in the history of Afghanistan cricket. It will be very hard work in South Africa and we will be playing against some very difficult teams but we are all very happy.
"It was very special to get the Man-of-the-Match award as my innings was important, but the entire team played well. I think if we all work very hard in the next couple of months we have a very good chance of making it to the 2011 World Cup."
A place in the top six will guarantee Afghanistan one-day international status for the next four years.
In the other match of the day, Uganda beat Argentina by 99 runs to secure the other berth at the World Cup Qualifier. Papua New Guinea, who also finished with eight points, missed out on qualification due to an inferior net run-rate. Argentina, meanwhile, have been relegated to Division 4 along with Cayman Islands.
Uganda got off to a terrible start and looked in danger of limping to a tiny total after they collapsed to 46 for 5. Were it for not for the heroics of Kenneth Kamyuka, Uganda would have struggled to reach a 100. The hard-hitting ninth-wicket stand of 59 between Kamyuka (38) and Danniel Ruyange (35) was crucial in propping them up to 183.
During Argentina's chase, Kamyuka starred yet again. His 3 for 26 helped shoot out the hosts for 83, handing them their fifth consecutive defeat. Apart from opener Matias Paterlini and Diego Lord, none of the batsmen managed double figures.
Despite the victory, Uganda coach Ebrahim Mohamed believed the team had "a lot of work to do ahead of the qualifiers". "Although our bowling and fielding has been good we need to improve our batting," Mohamed said. "Wouldn't it be nice to see Uganda playing in the 2011 World Cup?"
The coach also praised Kamyuka, one of the top performers in the tournament. "He is very talented and he has performed excellently during this week," Mohamed said. "With some hard work I think he could become a very good player in the future."
One final hurdle remains for Afghanistan in achieving their World Cup hopes: the qualifying tournament from April 1 to 19, from where four out of ten teams will join the ICC's Full-Member countries at the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent. Afghanistan have been drawn in Group B for the tournament along with Kenya, Netherlands, Bermuda, UAE and Denmark. Uganda are in Group A with Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Oman and Namibia.
Final points table