Afghanistan celebrates cricket World Cup qualification

media captionDavid Loyn in Kabul says celebrations will carry on for a few days

Celebrations have taken place across Afghanistan after its cricketers qualified for the first time for the World Cup, to be held in 2015.

The team beat Kenya by seven wickets on Friday in their final qualifying match in Sharjah.

More than 1,000 overjoyed fans watched their convincing victory on a giant screen in a stadium in Kabul before taking to the streets in celebration.

There were similar outpourings of joy in most other major cities.

Parts of the southern city of Kandahar ground to a halt as fans celebrated the win in public places.

Skipper and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi described the win as "a gift to a young generation".

Jubilant coach Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan test cricketer, described the victory as the best day of his coaching life.

Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries and has been blighted by decades of conflict. Its national cricket team only received associate status, the second tier below Test nations, earlier this year.

They reached a target of 94 to finish second behind Ireland in the World Cricket League and will be in England's group at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, which is being held in Australia and New Zealand.

Their first match in the competition will be against Bangladesh in Canberra on 18 February 2015 and they will also face Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand before taking on England in Sydney on 13 March.

Needing a win to move above the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands, Afghanistan bowled Kenya out for 93, with only Morris Ouma and Rakep Patel reaching double figures.

image copyrightAFP
image captionFans watched Friday's match on a big screen in Kabul and found it difficult to contain their excitement
image copyrightAP
image captionYoung and old were caught up in the excitement of the victory
image copyrightAFP
image captionPublic delight over the victory was evident in most major cities of the country including Jalalabad
image captionIn Kandahar, a city often blighted by the Afghan war, the highways were occupied by delighted supporters
image captionThe win is expected to inspire young people in a country that in recent years has had few sporting achievements

Skipper Nabi was playing in his 27th one-day international and steered his team to victory with an unbeaten 46 that featured three fours and two sixes.

In the 20th over, the 28-year-old thumped a six over long-on and in the next dispatched slow left-armer Shem Ngoche out of the ground. He struck the historic winning runs two balls later with a four through mid-wicket.

"I can't express my feelings," Nabi said. "It is a very big day in my life. I'm sure there will be huge celebrations back home. I'm happy for the people of Afghanistan and look forward to playing in Australia and New Zealand."

Coach Kabir Khan said: "I had very few great and memorable days in my life and this is right up there. It has been a dream for so many years and now we have achieved it.

"There will be tremendous atmosphere in Afghanistan and I'm so happy for them. This year they'll get two Eids [Muslim holidays] to celebrate."

Fans took to the streets of Kabul after the win and could hardly contain their excitement when speaking to the BBC.

"We have big plans for tonight," said supporter Aziz Wali Ahmadzai.

"We are going out with around 100 cars and will join other people who want to celebrate."

Another fan, Wahidullah Mihakhail, said that the victory had provided Afghanistan with something that no politician or militant could: "unity to a nation that has had too many years of war."

Afghanistan had been playing in Division Five of the World Cricket League as recently as 2008.

In 2010, they reached the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies by winning a qualification event in UAE, but lost both group games in the tournament to India and South Africa.

They also qualified for last year's World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka after finishing second to Ireland in qualifying, but were beaten by both India and England in the opening group phase.

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