KABUL: Afghanistan's triumph over Zimbabwe on Tuesday was far from a surprise to the man who runs the game in the war-torn nation and he has warned cricket's establishment to brace itself for more shocks at the World Cup next year. The Asian greenhorns beat Zimbabwe by two wickets in Bulawayo for their second win against a Test-playing nation in the 50-over format, following a 32-run victory over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup in March.
The victory added to the festivity for the Afghans in the holy month of Ramadan and celebrations had not stopped since, Noor Muhammad Murad, the chief executive of the country's cricket board, told Reuters. "Frankly speaking, we were expecting this win. We don't want the players to underestimate themselves and so there will be no added incentive or bonus," Noor said from Kabul in an interview. "Our vision is big and the target is very high."
Cricket gained popularity in Afghanistan after the refugees who had fled while the country was ravaged by the Soviet war started returning home in the 1990s. In June 2013, the International Cricket Council, the world governing body, granted Afghanistan associate status, which is the second tier of membership behind the 10 Test-playing nations. In their Asia Cup debut in March, Afghanistan claimed their first win over a Test-playing nation against Bangladesh while playing only their fourth one-day international against a full member.
Afghanistan will make their 50-over World Cup debut next year and Tuesday's win proved their preparation for the tournament in New Zealand and Australia was on the right track, Noor said. "We had rested a few seniors from the squad (for Zimbabwe) and a few new guys were included," Noor added. "They have done very well and that was the most positive aspect of the victory. "It bodes well for the future of Afghanistan cricket. "The very clear message is that Afghanistan shouldn't be taken lightly. We will play a good and tough game and we will surprise some full members at the World Cup."
Made up of cricketers who got their first taste of the sport while living at refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan lack experience of playing at the top level. Noor hoped their consistent performance would eventually lead to bilateral series against the Test-playing nations. "We hope the full members will take us more seriously and consider us not just for ICC events but also bilateral series," Noor said. "Afghanistan has a huge fan following across the world and you will witness that during next year's World Cup. "We have the ability to attract more crowd to the ground and the players have also shown that they can play good cricket."
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