DUBAI: Afghanistan capped their fairytale qualification for the World Twenty20 cricket finals by beating Ireland in the final match of the qualifying tournament here on Saturday.
The Afghans had already secured a place in the April 30-May 16 showpiece in the West Indies by beating hosts United Arab Emirates by four wickets and they signed off in style with a comfortable victory over Ireland.
Mohammad Shahzad finished unbeaten on 65, with Karim Sadiq contributing 34, as Afghanistan breezed past Ireland’s total of 146 for the loss of just two wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Afghanistan will play India and South Africa in Group C of the World Twenty20, which is the first major tournament they have ever reached.
Ireland, meanwhile, will face the West Indies and England in Group D.
“It’s a big thing for Afghanistan, for the cricketers and the nation,” said proud Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan, whose side was in the fifth division of the world cricket league just two years ago.
“It speaks for itself about how great an achievement it is for the side. For me personally it’s my greatest achievement as a coach so far and I am extremely proud for the team and for all of Afghanistan.”
Most of the Afghan team learnt to play cricket in refugee camps over the Pakistan border but batsman Raees Ahmadzai said his team would not head to the Caribbean merely to make up the numbers.
“We will give the full member countries a real test out in the West Indies - we won’t be going out there just for fun,” he said.
“In Twenty20 cricket anything can happen. It is a form of cricket we know very well and we will not be easy to beat.” Ireland competed in the most recent World Twenty20 in England and also in the 2007 World Cup.
The West Indies will hold many pleasant memories for Irish fans as their team made it to the Super Eight stage in that event three years ago.