KABUL: Afghanistan’s cricket team received a heroes’ homecoming in Kabul on Tuesday after qualifying for the 2019 World Cup. After touching down in the Afghan capital, captain Asghar Stanikzai warned that his minnows were ready to cause some shocks in the 50-over global showpiece in England next year.
“The other teams should understand that we are a strong and rising team,” he said at a special ceremony where they received a standing ovation from an invitation-only crowd. Afghanistan had looked set to miss out on a second straight World Cup appearance after suffering three straight defeats in the group stage of the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe.
But they fought back from the brink of an early exit and qualified by reaching Sunday’s final, albeit with help from results elsewhere. Victory over the West Indies in the Harare final was their fifth win in a row and Stanikzai, holding the winner’s trophy, led his teammates along a red carpet flanked by an honour guard of Afghan children in traditional dress, who threw red rose petals over the beaming players. The team’s remarkable recovery showed “we are able to fight hard”, Stanikzai told AFP. Afghanistan are due to play their maiden Test match against India in Bangalore in June having been recently promoted to full Test status by the International Cricket Council. “Afghanistan has changed quite a lot compared to what it was in previous years,” said Stanikzai. “The other teams should understand that we are a strong and rising team and we will try our best to put on a good show (at the World Cup).” For security reasons ordinary Afghan cricket fans were not allowed to welcome the players back to Kabul, but supporters flooded social media to pay tribute.
Their victory was also met with celebratory gunfire, fireworks and honking of horns throughout the Afghan capital. “Congratulations team Afghanistan for this remarkable victory,” Motiullah Mutmaen wrote on Twitter. “You have a fighting spirit which makes you a dangerous team who can beat any team on any given day.” Aymal Khan Jalal posted on Facebook: “You have finally managed to put a smile on our faces!” Leg-spin sensation Rashid Khan, who became the fastest to reach 100 one-day international wickets in the West Indies match, said making the World Cup was a “dream”. “The team we have right now and the talent we have, it’s a world class team. We just need to believe in ourselves,” said Rashid.