Afghanistan has become the second side to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 after defeating Kenya by seven wickets in front of a jubilant crowd in the final match of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Championship at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday.
The victory in the do-or-die match meant Afghanistan leapfrogged both the Unites Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Netherlands to finish in second position.
Deciding to field first after winning the toss, Afghanistan dismissed Kenya for 93 in 43.3 overs and then achieved the target in 20.5 overs with seven wickets to spare. The victory meant Afghanistan finished on 19 points – five behind champion Ireland, which qualified for ICC’s flagship event in July.
The architects of Afghanistan’s victory were left-arm spinner Hamza Hotak, captain Mohammad Nabi and Hashmatullah Shaidi. Hotak finished as the pick of bowlers with figures of 10-1-19-3, while Nabi scored 46 not out and Shaidi 13 not out. The pair of Nabi and Shaidi put on 62 for the fourth wicket, after Shem Ngoche had taken two wickets in five balls to reduce Afghanistan to 34 for three.
Afghanistan has now joined Pool A of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, alongside four-time champion Australia, co-host New Zealand, Bangladesh, three-time finalist England and 1996 champion Sri Lanka. The final team to join Group A will be Qualifier 3, a team that will be confirmed in February next year during the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier New Zealand 2014.
Ireland, who won the Championship to become the first team to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 after the sixth round of the competition, is in Group B of the marquee event, joining defending champion India, 1992 champion Pakistan, South Africa, two-time champion West Indies, Zimbabwe and Qualifier 4.
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi was almost lost for words after his side’s historic victory. “I can’t express my feelings. It is a very big day in my life. I’m sure there will be huge celebrations back home. I’m happy for the people of Afghanistan and look forward to playing in Australia and New Zealand.
“I didn’t expect to play in a World Cup when I started playing cricket. But now I can cherish this moment and look forward to playing against the best sides in some of the best playing facilities. Playing in a World Cup will be one grade up and we’ll try to work hard and do better.”
Looking ahead to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Nabi said: “We know about some teams but we’ll leave no stone unturned in our preparations and will try to give them a run for their money.
“There will be no pressure against Australia. We played against them here in Sharjah and I had a good outing against them and maybe they’ll be a little scared with me. I’ve never played in New Zealand and look forward to the trip to Dunedin.
Afghanistan coach and former Pakistan fast bowler Kabir Khan was thrilled with the result. “I’m lost for words. This is the best day of my coaching career. I had very few great and memorable days in my life and this is right up there. It has been a dream for so many years and now we have achieved it. It’s like a dream coming true.
“There will be tremendous atmosphere in Afghanistan and I’m so happy for them. This year they’ll get two Eids to celebrate.”
Turning his attention to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Kabir said: “I’m expecting a great response in Australia and New Zealand. The big teams will like to punish us but we’ll prepare as best as we can and try to show the world what we’re capable us.
“I would like to play more against the Full Member countries in the lead up to the World Cup. I’m expecting that our neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan will play some matches against us and help us prepare for our biggest tournament.”
ICC Chief Executive David Richardson congratulating Afghanistan said: “Afghanistan has performed incredibly well in this tournament – Congratulations to the team, the Afghanistan Cricket Board and to the country for supporting them.”
Speaking shortly after Afghanistan’s historic win, Mr Richardson said: “Afghanistan’s journey has been a remarkable one. It started in World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008, and will now make its maiden appearance at the ICC’s flagship 50-over event, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Afghanistan is a talented team who will prove a competitive opponent for any team that comes up against it.
“Afghanistan’s rapid rise is a feather in the cap for the ICC’s Global Development Programme. The World Cricket League Championship has proven a great success, providing meaningful context for Associate and Affiliate cricket and a fantastic pathway for all teams to reach the pinnacle of the sport.”
He added: “Well done also to the remaining six sides in the Championship, who have competed well over the two years of this competition. They will now have a second opportunity to qualify, alongside Hong Kong, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2014 in New Zealand, and I wish all ten sides the best of luck.”
Afghanistan will play its opening match in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 against Bangladesh at Manuka Oval, Canberra, on 18 February, while its other matches will be against Sri Lanka (22 February, Dunedin), Qualifier 3 (26 February, Dunedin), Australia (4 March, Perth), New Zealand (8 March, Napier) and England (13 March, Sydney).
It has been a remarkable journey for Afghanistan which was playing in the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008. In 2010, it qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 West Indies 2010 by winning the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier UAE 2010. It then finished second to Ireland in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier UAE 2012, to qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012.
Afghanistan also played in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2010 in New Zealand and the 2012 edition in Australia.
Scores in brief
Kenya 93 all out, 43.3 overs (Morris Ouma 39, Rakep Patel 18; Hamza Hotak 3-19, Karim Sadiq 2-10, Mohammad Nabi 2-10, Hamid Hassan 2-11)
Afghanistan 96-3, 20.5 overs (Mohammad Nabi 46 not out, Nawroz Mangal 19, Hashmatullah Shaidi 13 not out; Shem Ngoche 2-30)
Afghanistan won by seven wickets and qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015
Pepsi ICC WCL Championship points table (as on 4 October, after UAE-Namibia matches)
Team Mat Won Lost Tied N/R Pts Net R/R
Ireland* 14 11 1 1 1 24 0.985
Afghanistan* 14 9 4 0 1 19 0.765
UAE 14 9 5 0 0 18 0.359
Netherlands 14 8 4 1 1 18 0.621
Scotland 14 7 6 0 1 15 -0.117
Kenya 14 5 9 0 0 10 -0.461
Namibia 14 2 12 0 0 4 -1.162
Canada 14 1 11 0 2 4 -0.963
* Ireland and Afghanistan have qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
The bottom six sides along with Hong Kong, Nepal, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Uganda will participate in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2014 that will be staged in New Zealand in January/February 2014.