Afghanistan © Getty Images
Afghanistan © Getty Images

Afghanistan’s cricket team received a hero’s welcome when they returned to Kabul on Tuesday, fresh from winning the World Cup qualifying final and securing a spot in the 2019 tournament. After touching down in the Afghan capital, the team was whisked away to a special ceremony where they were met with standing ovations from an invitation-only crowd.

Afghanistan had looked set to miss out on a second straight World Cup appearance after suffering a series of defeats in the group stage. But they turned their performance around and Sunday’s final win over the West Indies in Zimbabwe gave them their fifth victory in a row as they qualified with help from results elsewhere.

Captain Asghar Stanikzai, holding the winner’s trophy, led his teammates up a red carpet through an honour guard of Afghan children in traditional dress, who threw red rose petals over the smiling players.

The team’s remarkable recovery showed “we are able to fight hard”, Stanikzai told AFP. His team will play their maiden Test match against India in Bangalore in June.

“Afghanistan has changed quite a lot compared to what it was in previous years. The other teams should understand that we are a strong and rising team and we will try our best to put on a good show (in 2019),” he added.

For security reasons ordinary Afghan cricket fans were not allowed to welcome the players on their return to Kabul, but supporters have flooded social media in recent days to pay tribute to the team.

Their victory was also met with celebratory gunfire, fireworks and honking of horns throughout the Afghan capital.

“Congratulations team Afghanistan for this remarkable victory,” Motiullah Mutmaen wrote on Twitter. ”You have a fighting spirit which makes you a dangerous team who can beat any team on any given day.” Aymal Khan Jalal posted on Facebook: “You have finally managed to put a smile on our faces!”

Leg-spin sensation Rashid Khan, who became the fastest bowler ever to reach 100 one-day international wickets in the West Indies match, said making the World Cup was a “dream” come true.

“The team we have right now and the talent we have, it’s a world class team. We just need to believe in ourselves,” Khan told AFP.