Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai hit the winning runs which took his country to a five-wicket win over Ireland and a place in the World Cup on Friday but admitted he wasn't feeling 100 percent after having his appendix removed just two weeks ago.
Stanikzai struck four fours and a six in his undefeated 39 -- including a four to finish the match in the final over -- to see his team home.
Stanikzai’s knock was all the more remarkable given that he has only recently recovered from his emergency appendectomy two weeks ago.
At several points on Friday, he was seen clutching his side after playing big shots or pushing through for quick runs.
“I’m not feeling that well, not 100 percent,” said Stanikzai. “I only had my operation two weeks ago. I still feel pain inside, especially when I was playing big shots. It was very hard for me to control.
"But this is us, we are the youngsters, we have to fight and sacrifice for our country. And that’s what we did. And I have done it.
"When the country needs me, I will be there. I will forget about the pain or whatever, the operation, and I’m proud that I have done this, my little contribution to my country.”
Stanikzai dedicated his team’s victory “to all the people of Afghanistan back home”.
Afghanistan chased down Ireland’s 209 for 7 with five balls to spare, to secure their place at next year’s tournament in England and Wales.
“I can’t express how happy they will be back home,” said Stanikzai. “Everyone likes and supports this game back home.
"We didn’t even have a 10 percent chance to qualify after the first round, but after some support from people back home, the prayers of the people of Afghanistan, all the messages we received, all the messages on social media, it was not just the dream for our guys, but it was the dream of all Afghanistan as well.”
- Accept the challenge -
Afghanistan lost their group games to Zimbabwe, Scotland and Hong Kong, but managed to make it into the Super Six stage.
They then beat West Indies, UAE and Ireland to secure their place in Sunday’s final against the Windies.
Afghanistan were also helped by vital results in other games, and most especially by Zimbabwe’s surprise defeat to UAE on Thursday which set up Friday's match as a straight shootout for a place in the finals.
Ireland chose to bat first in the morning, and made a slow start on a pitch that did not encourage strokeplay early on.
Opener Paul Stirling’s half century kept Ireland in a reasonably strong position, while characteristically adventurous contributions from the O’Brien brothers -- Niall and Kevin -- helped to boost their run rate.
Niall made 36 in quick time before he drove Dawlat Zadran uppishly into the covers, while Kevin struck three fours and a six in his 41.
Combative Afghanistan opener Mohammad Shahzad, who was banned for two of Afghanistan’s group games, opened the chase with gusto.
He and Gulbadin Naib put together an opening stand of 86 to lay a solid platform, with Shahzad reaching a 48-ball fifty.
Neither player was able to push on and close out the chase, however, and Ireland chipped away at Afghanistan’s middle order to set up a tense finish.
Stanikzai insisted that Afghanistan, now a Test-playing nation, would not be going to the World Cup only to make up the numbers.
“We would like not only to participate in the World Cup, but to perform and to even beat more countries because we’re not an Associate any more,” said Stanikzai.
“Now we have to win games because the higher you go, the higher the expectation. Definitely we will accept that challenge.”
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