Former Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal spoke of his pride at signing off on his international career with a victory in the final of the inaugural Desert T20 Challenge in Dubai on Friday. Mangal, who captained his country during their astounding rise from Division Five of the World Cricket League in 2008 through to their present place in Division One of Associate cricket, scored 17 not out off eight balls in the final against Ireland before being carried off the field to the cheers of 15,000 fans at the Dubai International Stadium.
"It's a very proud stage for me to [retire] on the winning tournament, and also in the final on the winning side," Nawroz said through translator and team manager Hamkar Shiraha at the post-final press conference. "I got lots of respect, lots of support while playing for Afghanistan so all my wishes have been completed. Now I don't have any other wish.
"I'm really proud of my country and myself that I played for Afghanistan for quite a long time. It's a very big, proud moment for me that I'm retiring in a tournament where we are finishing on the winning side."
Nawroz had announced at the start of the month that he was retiring but the Afghanistan board and selectors committed to giving him a "farewell series" at this tournament. He sat out the first two games as Afghanistan secured qualification for the semi-finals before coming into the XI and making 32 against Namibia in their final Group A match.
He then made another 34 against Oman on Friday morning to help Afghanistan into the final that same night against Ireland. In the final, Afghanistan recorded their first ever ten-wicket win in T20Is, even more impressive as it came against their old sparring partner at the top of the Associate world.
Captain Asghar Stanikzai had said after the semi-final win over Oman that Mangal showed his skills had not eroded; instead injuries that had plagued the 32-year-old had contributed to the retirement decision. Nawroz said after the final that the time was right to step aside and allow a new generation to emerge.
"I'm retiring from international cricket so I set a good example for other senior players as well," he said. "It's an open door for the new youngsters who are coming and replacing me. They deserve a chance to play for Afghanistan."
Mangal is held in such high stature by his team-mates and the administration that he was given the honor of bringing out the team sheets to the toss and flipped the coin for William Porterfield's call. Upon seeing Mangal approaching for the toss, Porterfield greeted him warmly, showing the respect that exists for the Afghanistan batsman from the opposition, too. It was Mangal who captained Afghanistan against Porterfield's Ireland in the previous two finals between these sides at the same venue in the 2010 and 2012 World T20 Qualifiers, with each side claiming one win apiece.
Just before play, Mangal was given a guard of honour by his team-mates as he walked across a red carpet rolled out for him from the change room to the boundary rope. When the match ended, fast bowler Dawlat Zadran hoisted him up onto his shoulders and carried him for a lap around the entire boundary as Mangal at times wiped his eyes and patted at his heart.
"It was an exciting moment when they put me up on the shoulders and [carried] me around the ground," Mangal said. "I got lots of support and appreciation from the spectators. So it was fabulous for me, a fabulous moment."
At the end of his final victory lap, a host of dignitaries and former team-mates were there to greet him. Foremost among them were fast bowlers Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran, who have been with Mangal for most of Afghanistan's ride up the world rankings. Both Hamid and Shapoor gave him a big hug and he received special greetings from ACB chairman Atif Mashal and chief executive Shafiqullah Stanikzai before they all backed away to let Mangal walk off alone to the chorus of the cheering crowd.
"Definitely it was an exciting moment for me when I saw my team-mates because I had been a captain for them for seven years as well since Division [Five in 2008]," Mangal said. "So I will definitely miss some moments with the team like the dressing room, winning moments, bus travel and lunches. These things definitely I will miss it."
Afghanistan coach Lalchand Rajput is fairly new to the squad, having taken over the job only last year, but recognised the place Mangal holds in Afghanistan's cricket history. He credited the Afghanistan Cricket Board for giving Mangal a dignified farewell.
"They have given him a very good send-off because he is the first cricketer who has captained Afghanistan for a long time, more than seven to eight years," Rajput said. "I think the ACB has sent a good precedent that a senior player should be given a good send-off."