Sharjah, Feb 9: Afghanistan players are excited and have promised to put up their best showing in their first-ever One-Day International (ODI) against Pakistan in Sharjah tomorrow.
The war-torn country has played 18 ODIs since gaining status in 2009 but all their matches were against associate and affiliate teams. And the prospect of playing Pakistan left the Afghanistan players ecstatic.
“It's a great opportunity for us and we can't wait until Friday,” said team manager Shafiqullah Stanikzai. “It's a tough challenge for the team but we will show our qualities and fight to the last.”
Of their 18 ODIs to date, Afghanistan have won 11 and lost seven and Stanikzai said despite the big challenge his team will not let their fans down.
“The Afghanistan team is an entertainment package and we will try to give the best possible fight to Pakistan, who are the form team after beating England 3-0 in Tests and doing well in one-day cricket recently.”
The cricket relationship between the two countries goes a long way, as the game was made popular in Afghanistan by refugees who spent years living in Pakistan when Soviet troops invaded their country in 1979.
In the last three years, cricket has progressed in the war-ravaged country by leaps and bounds. Afghanistan finished fifth in the World Cup qualifiers in 2009 to win the right to play one-day cricket and the following year they won the qualifying tournament to earn an opportunity to play in the World Twenty20 held in West Indies.
Stanikzai said Afghanistan are progressing fast.
“With this opportunity we hope to build our team and next month we will feature in the World Twenty20 qualifiers and hope to win that again to play the main tournament.”
Pakistan coach Mohsin Khan said his team will not take Afghanistan lightly.
“Afghanistan's team is coming up very fast and we will take them very seriously,” said Khan, hoping his team carry on their good work from the 3-0 Test series win over England. “This one-day against Afghanistan will give us an opportunity to switch to the one-day mode before the series against England.”
Organisers in Sharjah hope a large number of Afghan and Pakistan expats will come to support their teams.