It feels like Afghanistan has won the World Cup: Coach

Kabir Khan, the coach of the Afghanistan cricket team, was a difficult man to reach yesterday. And there was good reason too. No sooner had his wards created history by making the cut for the 2015 World Cup, than his phone was kept busy by all and sundry, in their bid to congratulate the coach.

Afghanistan players
Afghanistan players lift their coach Kabir Khan after defeating Kenya at the Sharjah Cricket Ground yesterday. Pic courtesy: ICC/Saleem Sanghati.

“We have been getting congratulatory messages from everywhere. The president (Hamid Karzai) also called to congratulate the team on the victory. It’s a big day for the nation. It will be a memorable moment when the team returns to Afghanistan. It feels as if this team has won the World Cup,” Khan told MiD DAY hours after Afghanistan’s thumping seven-wicket win over Kenya in Sharjah that secured them a place in the quadrennial tournament to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Afghanistani fans
Fans celebrate after the Afghanistan team’s win in Kabul yesterday. Pic/AFP.

“This is simply incredible. The boys are ecstatic. It’s a very special moment that is difficult to describe in words. We could have qualified last time, but missed by a narrow margin. We have been waiting for this moment for four years. We’ve been hungry for this. The players are very emotional. Some are in tears… some (are) dancing. They are completely out of control,” the former Pakistan left-arm seamer added.

Afghanistan reached the target of 94 in the 21st over at the Sharjah Cricket Ground, leading to joyous scenes at the popular desert venue. Afghan skipper Mohammad Nabi, who scored an unbeaten 42-ball 46, hit Shem Ngoche for a boundary through midwicket to seal the deal.

Afghanistan will play in Pool A at the World Cup alongside co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and another qualifier.

AFP reported that the war-ravaged Afghanistan’s qualification was greeted by wild celebrations back home. Despite strict warnings by the police, the supporters in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, celebrated by firing gunshots in the air.

For Afghanistan, who were playing in Tier Five of the World Cricket League five years ago, the rise in the sport has been stupendous. They managed to qualify for two World T20s — 2010 and 2012. In 2011 they earned the ODI status for four years. The team’s effort was rewarded with Afghanistan becoming an associate member of the International Cricket Council earlier this year.

Kabir (39) said the team is driven by a social motto. “The boys are very patriotic. There is outstanding unity in the team. I can see that they want to give a message to the world through cricket that there is not just war in Afghanistan. All of them are determined to bring the youth of the nation towards sport and not towards guns. That’s their aim. And to get that, they need to play good cricket… they have to perform at the top level. Only then can they attract the youngsters. They (players) are not very educated, but it is a huge message they are carrying.

“If this World Cup could bring peace to the country, it would be a huge achievement,” Kabir said.¬†For the coach, the real challenge begins now. “It’s a good thing to qualify. We can enjoy it for a few more days. But then we have to start thinking about the World Cup.

“We should not just go there to participate, but also to create a few upsets. We should play top-class cricket and show the world that Afghanistan has potential too,” he said.

Kabir wants his batsmen to start preparing for the tough conditions in Australia and New Zealand soon. “We have the experience of two T20 World Cups now. Conditions will be crucial. Batsmen generally struggle in Australia. So that will be a huge challenge for us. We have to work harder. We are used to playing in Asian conditions. Our batsmen must now get used to Australian conditions,” signed off Kabir.

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