DUBAI // It has not taken Afghanistan's cricketers long to learn all about the freedom of expression. When they first toured as an international side, the inhibitions imposed on them by the Taliban's morality police meant they celebrated wickets with nothing more than a solemn handshake. How times have changed. When Hamid Hassan broke the stumps to seal the irrepressible Afghan side's 13-run win, it sparked the sort of outpouring of excitement and joy which has quickly become their trademark.
The ungainly cartwheel-come-forward roll performed by Sadiq Karim Khan, the off-spinner, may not have won many points for style, but it suitably captured the mood. While Ireland may have entered this World Twenty20 qualifier as favourites, their defeat was not a complete surprise to anyone who has charted the amazing rise of Afghan cricket in recent times. It was brought about by Mohammed Nabi, the big-hitting, off-spinning all-rounder, who has been good enough to hold his own in Pakistan first-class cricket for the past three years.
He earned the man-of-the-match award for his 43 from 25 balls, which was just the tonic the Afghans required after a relatively tepid start. He followed that up with two crucial wickets. Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan coach, added: "I think that was the perfect performance for us. Ireland are the best team in the tournament and to beat them is a big morale-booster." William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, was one of a number of Ireland players who had dyed their hair with different colours on the eve of the game in aid of a Dublin-based charity.
However, they were left red-faced, and he said: "It just wasn't good enough, every dismissal, all the way down, was not where we are at. We have to win two games, and win them well, otherwise we are out. It is pretty simple." In the second match of the day at Dubai Sports City, Ryan ten Doeschate and Bas Zuiderant, two batsmen with county experience, guided the Netherlands to a vital opening success over Canada, by six wickets.