March 23, 2018 / 3:47 PM / 4 months ago

Cricket: Captain Fantastic propels Afghanistan to the World Cup

HARARE (Reuters) - Afghanistan qualified for next year’s cricket World Cup as captain Asghar Stanikzai played through the pain barrier to produce a heroic innings and lead them to a five-wicket victory over Ireland on Friday.

Stanikzai returned to the team last week for the closing stages of the qualifying tournament after having surgery to remove his appendix.

He batted in obvious pain and with a heavy dressing under his shirt, to score an unbeaten 39 off 29 balls, as he and Najibullah Zadran saw their team home with five balls to spare.

Ireland scored a modest 209 for seven in their 50 overs in the winner-takes-all match to decide who would join the West Indies in securing a place at the World Cup from the qualifying tournament.

The West Indies booked their spot in next year’s tournament in England earlier in the week.

Afghanistan reached their target as Stanikzai squeezed a boundary with the first ball of the last over as they scored 213-5.

Ireland opener Paul Stirling top scored with 55 and Kevin O’Brien hit 41 runs off 37 balls near the end of their innings on a slow wicket as they sought to accelerate the run rate but managed only 81 runs in last 15 overs.

Rashid Khan, who had skippered Afghanistan through most of qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, took 3-40.

Afghanistan made a positive start in their chase with openers Mohammad Shahzad (54) and Gulbadin Naib (45) putting down the platform for victory. Shahzad was named man of the match.

They will now play the West Indies on Sunday in the final of the qualifying tournament in Harare.

It will be Afghanistan’s second World Cup appearance after their debut in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand where they beat Scotland by a single wicket but lost their other five matches.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Toby Davis

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