At 28, Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi is now part of his country’s cricketing history. He holds the honour of being the captain under whom Afghanistan qualified for cricket’s showpiece tournament, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, scheduled to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
But before Nabi’s men undertake the journey of making a mark on the ODI big stage, an equally big challenge lies ahead of them, to qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014, through the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier UAE 2013 (WT20Q) to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 15 to 30 November.
Having twice qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 (in 2010 and 2012), Nabi feels that qualification is a given this time around as well “purely because of the quality of my team.”
“Qualification this time around is very important for us as a team, for our cricket and for our nation. We will try very hard to make it to the Bangladesh event like we did to the 2010 and 2012 events. It will be a big moment for me as a captain,” said Nabi.
Afghanistan has been drawn in Group B of the WT20Q alongside The Netherlands, Scotland, Kenya, Bermuda, Denmark, Nepal and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Six teams will eventually qualify from the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier for the main event, scheduled to be held in Bangladesh from 16 March to 6 April.
“The ICC has done a great thing by letting six teams qualify for ICC World Twenty20. It will help a lot of the sides to look ahead positively. For us also it gives a better chance of not just qualifying but also provides us with an opportunity to dream about making it to the second stage of the ICC World Twenty20,” said Nabi.
When Afghanistan qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, there were massive celebrations in Kabul and the adjoining areas.
Nabi is sure that there will be equally big celebrations this time should his side qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 again. “Qualifying for the ICC Cricket World Cup was a big moment for our nation. Even qualifying for the World Twenty20 will trigger wild celebrations too,” added Nabi.
The target set by Nabi for his side is not just to qualify for ICC World Twenty20, but to win the tournament.
“The pressure will always be there. Just because six teams will qualify does not mean that our job becomes easier. I therefore believe that we need to look to win the tournament rather than just look to qualify,” reckoned Nabi.
The Afghanistan side assembled in Dubai from 3 November for a camp in the lead-up to the WT20Q, and Nabi intends that the camp drilla home the importance of winning the tournament.
‘’The practice at the camp will be good enough for us to put together a winning combination. It will be a good time to regroup after a break.’’
The Afghanistan captain believes his side will start as favourite to win the tournament.
“We are back at full strength now. Hamid is back so is Dowlat Zadran. Nowroz (Mangal) is back to scoring runs. Gulbadin Naib is back too so we have every opportunity to become the champion.
“But there are other good teams as well like The Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland. Kenya is also a good team in the T20 format and in fact they beat us last time we played them. We won’t underestimate any side as all will fight well. In cricket, anything can happen and it will be down to which team does well on the given day,” said Nabi.
Afghanistan plays Canada and Uganda in two warm-up matches before the tournament gets underway on 15 November.
“We may also play some club sides in Dubai ahead of the tournament’s warm-up matches. I think ten days of preparation should be good enough for our side,’’ concluded Nabi.
Afghanistan’s first group stage match of the tournament is against The Netherlands on 15 November at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (capt), Merwais Ashraf, Hamid Hassan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Afsar Khan, Nawroz Mangal, Gulbadin Naib, Mohammad Shahzad, Shafiqullah Shafaq, Karim Sadiq, Samiullah Shinwari, Najeebullah Zadran, Shapor Zadran, Dawlat Khan Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran