Publication Date: 
Sun, 2010-02-14 03:00

DUBAI: Afghanistan will contest a major cricket tournament for the first time after beating the United Arab Emirates by four wickets in Saturday’s qualifier for the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup.

Victory for the Afghans in a 20-over match at Dubai Sports City has sealed its place of the final of the qualifying tournament.

The battle-scarred nation will now meet Ireland or the Netherlands, who play later Saturday, but Afghanistan’s place in the World Cup in the West Indies in May is already assured as both finalists qualify.

The UAE was restricted to 100-9, having slumped to 3-11 in a misfiring start before a spirited 24 from Saqib Ali helped revive the innings for the host nation.

Afghanistan also made a poor start, losing two wickets for 16 runs. But opening batsman Noor Ali and Nowroz Mangal sparked a revival that continued on to a victory total of 101 being clinched with three balls to spare.

Ali finished unbeaten on 38, while Mangal, who added 14, and Asghar Stanikzai, who rattled up 26, were both caught by Qadar Nawaz off deliveries from Fayyaz Ahmed.

Afghanistan’s ascent in world cricket has been rapid since gaining affiliate membership of the International Cricket Council in 2001. As recently as two years ago, Afghanistan was playing in the ICC World Cricket League Division 5.

NZ-Lanka set for US

Meanwhile, New Zealand is likely to play international matches against Sri Lanka in the United States after striking a deal with American administrators.

New Zealand Cricket (NZC) chief executive Justin Vaughan on Saturday confirmed a “strategic partnership” had been formed with USA Cricket.

It is likely the New Zealand team will play three games against Sri Lanka in Lauderhill, Florida in late May following the Twenty20 World Cup hosted by the West Indies.

Vaughan stressed the games - the type of matches was not specified - were not yet confirmed but was “optimistic” they would take place.

“Over the past months, we have advanced discussions with USA Cricket regarding the structure of our relationship, and both parties are very happy with how this is taking shape,” Vaughan said in a statement.

“We are looking to help introduce cricket to a wider audience, and to attract new investment into the sport. It is widely accepted there is significant commercial opportunity for cricket within the US market, and the introduction such investment would greatly assist the overall development and growth of cricket.” The Pakistan national team — currently prevented from hosting international cricket for security reasons — is planning to tour the US later this year, with US offering to host a series against India.

There have also been unconfirmed reports of Indian Premier League Twenty20 matches being played in the US

Smith fit for Test

Meanwhile, South Africa captain Graeme Smith has passed a fitness test despite breaking a finger and will play in the second Test match against India starting Sunday.

Smith sustained the injury during catching practice on Friday. While the initial diagnosis was of ligament damage, he confirmed Saturday there was a fracture near a joint in his left little finger and said he would make a decision on whether he could play in the Test after a practice session.

South Africa’s media spokesman Michael Owen Smith later said that: “Graeme took part in the nets and did batting practice for a considerable time. He did not find any problem while practicing in the nets and was found to be fit. Graeme will be playing tomorrow.”

South Africa won the series opener by an innings and six runs, and needs only a draw in the second and final Test to move above India and into the No.1 spot in the Test rankings.

However. India will be strengthened by the return of some players from injury. V.V.S. Laxman, who was a late withdrawal from the series opener, will be back, while pace bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth was included in the 15-man squad named Saturday, along with Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina.

Those making way from the first Test’s 15-man squad were wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha and the pace duo of Sudip Tyagi and Abhimanyu Mithun.

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