Afghanistan make history, qualify for 2015 Cricket World Cup

In a fantastic display of grit and determination, strife-torn Afghanistan on Friday qualified for its maiden ICC World Cup after defeating Kenya by seven wickets to finish second in the World Cricket League Championship in Sharjah.

The team who were playing in the fifth-tier just five years ago, and are forced by the precarious security situation in their country to stage home matches in the Gulf, swept past Kenya by seven wickets to secure an historic spot in the 2015 showpiece.

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 to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2015.

Debutant Gurdeep Singh in action
Debutant Gurdeep Singh in action for Kenya against Afghanistan. Pic/IANS

The architects of Afghanistan's victory were left-arm spinner Hamza Hotak and captain Mohammad Nabi.

 Afghanistan reached their target in the 21st over when captain Mohammad Nabi hit Shem Ngoche for a boundary through midwicket.

They had to endure a brief moment of worry before romping to victory when they were reduced to 34 for 3 with Shem Ngoche taking two wickets in five balls.

But Nabi, who finished on 46 not out, and Hashmatullah Shaidi, put on 62 for the fourth wicket to bring their side home with 175 balls to spare.

Nabi smashed two huge sixes and three fours to assure his team of second place in the World Cricket League behind runaway winners Ireland who have also qualified for the World Cup. Hotak was the pick of bowlers with figures of 10-1-19-3.

"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," said Nabi.

"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."

Afghanistan were already overwhelming favourites to beat Kenya in the last match of an exhausting two-year qualifying competition.

In Monday's Twenty20 international, they routed the African side by 106 runs and carried that form through to Wednesday when they romped to victory by eight wickets in the first of the two determining ODIs.

Then, Kenya were dismissed for just 89 with Afghanistan reaching their target inside 18 overs.

On Friday, Kenya, who gave a debut to 15-year-old opener Gurdeep Singh, were put into bat and struggled again with Morris Ouma top-scoring with 39.

Rakep Patel, with 18, was the only other batsman to reach double figures in an innings where the first boundary didn't arrive until the 16th over.

"This is the best day of my coaching career," said Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan Test player.

"It has been a dream for so many years and now we have achieved it. It's like a dream coming true."

Their qualification was greeted by wild celebrations back in war-torn Afghanistan, with 3,000 fans packed onto the field at Kabul's only cricket stadium watching the match on a big screen.

Large crowds of supporters also celebrated in the southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, where police issued strict warnings on the radio before the game that people should not celebrate by firing guns in the air.

Afghan fans cheer for their team. Pic/IANS

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.

By virtue of finishing second in the World Cricket League Championship, Afghanistan has earned a place in Pool 'A' that includes co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, as well as Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and Qualifier 3.

Afghanistan will play its opening match in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 against Bangladesh at Manuka Oval, Canberra, on February 18 while its other matches will be against Sri Lanka (February 22, Dunedin), Qualifier 3 (February 26, Dunedin), Australia (March 4, Perth), New Zealand (March 8, Napier) and England (March 13, Sydney). 

Netherlands, UAE, Scotland, Kenya, Namibia, Canada, Uganda, Hong Kong, Nepal and Papua New Guinea will now compete for the last two World Cup berths at the final qualifying event to be staged in New Zealand early next year.

Brief Scores:

Kenya - 93 all out in 43.3 overs (Morris Ouma 39; Hamza Hotak 3-19)

Afghanistan - 96 for 3 in 20.5 overs (Mohammad Nabi 46 not out)

Result: Afghanistan won by seven wickets.

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