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26 February 201521:59

Afghanistan Dare to Dream in Debut Win

The nation's story has captured the imaginations of not only cricket fans, but of people everywhere

Afghanistan Dare to Dream in Debut Win - Cricket News
They were dancing at Dunedin’s University Oval, in the streets of Kabul and Jalalabad, in the provinces of Paktia and Kandahar.

Afghanistan’s historic first ICC Cricket World Cup victory resonated around the world and the hard-fought fashion in which its batsmen steered the match home was befitting a team whose players know more of hardship than most.

Theirs is a story that has captured the imaginations of not only cricket fans, but of people everywhere.

A national cricket team formed less than 15 years ago, represented by players who grew up in refugee camps, performing for a nation that has endured decades of war.

Players who have quickly started to become the cult heroes this World Cup, not only for Hamid Hassan’s war paint and cartwheels, but for their inspiring story and their passion on the field.

By the time the World Cup newcomer edged home against Scotland by the smallest of margins – one wicket in hand and three balls remaining – on Thursday, the match was trending worldwide on Twitter.

At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where Sri Lanka was scoring runs at will against Bangladesh and Tillakaratne Dilshan was well on his way to 100, people passing televisions stopped in their tracks and stood transfixed as the final overs played out.

In Dunedin, the crowd of passionate Afghanistan fans who watched the historic win at University Oval were bursting with pride.

Online, messages of congratulations flowed in from all corners of the globe from current and former players, cricket boards, politicians.

When the team qualified for the World Cup in October 2013, the party lasted for days.

“At the airport there was a big celebration, parliament members and ministers came to the airport as well,” captain Mohammad Nabi recalled prior to the World Cup.

That celebration will pale in comparison to this one.

Shortly after the match, crowds had already made their way to the Afghanistan Cricket Board headquarters in Kabul to celebrate, while photos posted online captured similar scenes in provinces across the country.

For Afghanistan, this is about more than just cricket. The team has become a source of inspiration for their fans back home and for Afghans around the world, who rarely have the chance to see their country celebrated on the world stage.

Batsman Samiullah Shenwari spoke of the sport’s rapidly growing popularity after the match: “There was nothing before. You can look 10 or eight years ago, there was nothing in Afghanistan. But now you can say the streets, school, everything you go, it's just cricket and cricket.”

How much it meant to the players in Dunedin was obvious. Samiullah Shenwari played the innings of his life to rescue Afghanistan from 97-7, only to be dismissed with 19 runs left to score.

He sat inconsolable on the bench after being dismissed.

Meanwhile, Shapoor Zadran was inches from disaster on the second last ball of the match. He set off for a single only to be sent diving back. A direct hit from Scotland would have been out.

He took his time regaining his composure afterwards and when he flicked the next delivery through square leg for four, his celebration was nothing short of epic.

Post-match, Samiullah Shenwari reserved special thanks for those who cheered Afghanistan on in person at University Oval: “When we see the crowd, we get more, like, more happy, and we feel that we have more company. We get a shout, so we feel so good.”

After its performances in the World Cup to date, it’s likely Afghanistan will have acquired a few new fans for its upcoming matches in Perth, Napier and Sydney.

It is impossible not to feel for Scotland. In three World Cup appearances it has yet to record a win and it had seemed poised for victory in Dunedin.

Captain Preston Mommsen was bitterly disappointed in his post-match press conference, but still praised Afghanistan for its achievements.

“We have huge amounts of respect for the Afghanistan national team and the pride they have and the way they go about their business and the journey that they've gone on and are still going on,” Mommsen said.

In two days, the tournament’s four associate teams have produced the two most thrilling matches of this World Cup to date.

Last night, it seemed hard to imagine what could outdo the dramatic climax to Ireland’s win over the United Arab Emirates. It took Afghanistan and Scotland less than one day to manage it.