Afghanistan victory seals place at World Twenty20
Afghanistan capped off their remarkable rise to the cricketing elite with victory over Ireland in the final of the World Twenty20 Qualifier.
Victory in the match was largely academic due to both teams having already qualified for the World Twenty20 in West Indies in May simply by reaching the final, but the win has strengthened Afghanistan’s status among the top of the ICC Associate nations.
Ireland’s total of 142-8 never looked enough and the Afghans knocked off the runs required for the loss of just two wickets with 15 balls to spare.
Hamid Hassan, Afghanistan’s star bowler, said: “I feel absolutely amazing and it is a dream come true to. It is undoubtedly the biggest day in my cricketing life.
“All over the world the people of Afghanistan will be happy today and I am very proud to be able to play for my country and bring so much happiness to our supporters.”
Having chosen to bat first, Ireland raced to 81-1 by the tenth over thanks to useful contributions from Niall O’Brien (28) and Alex Cusack (28).
However, Afghan captain Nowroz Mangal pinned the Irish down with 3-23 from his four overs of off-spin as his side restricted Ireland with some disciplined bowling.
Afghanistan got their innings off to a flyer, reaching 57-1 at the end of the fifth over as Karim Sadiq (34) put his side well ahead of the required run rate. That left Mohammad Shahzad (65 not out) and Mangal (21 not out) time to reach the victory target with ease.
Afghanistan assistant coach Taj Malik said: “These are the best moments of my life. We had an ultimate aim, to go to the World Cup. We are thankful to Allah for giving us this opportunity. I am so happy, I cannot put it into words.”
Afghanistan will line up alongside South Africa and India in Group C of the World Twenty20 while a quirk in the ICC rankings sees Ireland given the easier task of facing England and West Indies in Group D.
Afghanistan player Raees Ahmedzai said: “Our players want to match players like Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. We won’t be going out there just for fun.”
Earlier on the World Twenty20 Qualifier finals day, Afghanistan booked their place in the final – and the World Twenty20 tournament – by chasing down United Arab Emirates’ total of 100-9 in the final over of the match.
Top-seeded Ireland meanwhile ensured their route to the final by thumping the Netherlands by 65 runs in the second of what was effectively two semi-finals. Cusack’s 65 off 44 balls helped Ireland to 151-6 off their 20 overs before bowling the Netherlands out for 86, with 17-year-old spinner George Dockrell picking up 4-20.
However, having to play the final with Afghanistan just one hour after their victory over the Netherlands, Ireland coach Phil Simmons expressed his disappointment at the tournament schedule.
“We had just played a game and were straight into another,” he said.
“Five matches in six days was ridiculous. At the end of the day we have qualified but it’s not healthy and it wouldn’t be done for any other tournament, so I didn’t think it was right.”
After being awarded one-day international status last year, Afghanistan’s victory completed a period of unheralded success over the past two years.
Indeed a shift in power seems to have taken place with Ireland - the most successful ICC Associate country - having beaten Afghanistan just once in five meetings between the teams.