Asian cricket chief hails Afghan T20 qualification

KARACHI: Afghanistan's qualification for this year's World Twenty20 main rounds was hailed as a triumph for cricket's development in the war-ravaged country by a top regional cricket official on Sunday.

Afghanistan beat Ireland to win the World Twenty20 qualification round in Dubai on Sunday, securing a place in the West Indies tournament in April-May.

They will play in Group C alongside South Africa and India, while Ireland qualified in Group D, with England and hosts the West Indies.

"The passion for cricket is undeniably there in Afghanistan," said Ashraful Huq, chief executive of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC). "It is a success of our development strategy and structure being put in place in Afghanistan."

The ACC started its development work in Afghanistan in the last decade after seeing tremendous interest in the game, especially among people who had spent some time as refugees in cricket-mad Pakistan.

Last year Afghanistan achieved one-day status -- and with it funding from the International Cricket Council (ICC) -- by finishing among the top six in the Super-Eight stage of the 50-over World Cup qualifiers in South Africa.

"When you think of how they began and how far they have come, Afghan cricket is one of the world's success stories," said former first class cricketer Huq.

"The potential of Afghanistan is only just starting to be seen. They have done all this from a standing start in just a few years. We congratulate Afghanistan and hope they carry on the good work."

Huq said ACC development staff had worked hard for the rise of the game in Afghanistan, where he said cricket "has become close to the national game".

"Two years ago they were ranked alongside minnows Vanuatu, now they are alongside the world's elite, having beaten countries like the Netherlands and Ireland with strong cricketing pedigrees," said Huq.