JOHANNESBURG: Afghanistan have earned ODI status for the next four years by finishing among the top six in the 2011 Cricket World Cup Qualifier Super 8.
Not satisfied with a meteoric rise from fifth-division non-entities to the verge of World Cup qualification within one year the sporting warriors from the war-torn country have adjusted their sights to facing the likes of Australia and Pakistan at one-day level.
Manager Sayed Aminzai said that a team used to overcoming obstacles face another with their new-found position: where to stage matches against the cream of the cricket crop.
Apart from safety worries, there is no international-standard pitch in Kabul and neighbouring Pakistan has become a cricket no-go area after losing the right to co-host the 2011 World Cup over security concerns.
Aminzai said the Afghanistan players, coaches and officials had fallen in love with South Africa, which offered world-class pitches, facilities and accommodation during the three-week Qualifier.
"Much though we would like to play in South Africa it is too far from home and I believe Afghanistan officials will seriously consider India as a temporary base," he said.
"Given a choice of opponents I would want Afghanistan to play Pakistan owing to all the help they gave us in developing as a cricket nation and Australia because they are the world champions," said Aminzai.
Reflecting on a qualifying journey that took Afghanistan from Jersey to South Africa via Tanzania and Argentina, the manager singled out captain Norooz Mangal, opener Karim Sadiq and medium-pace bowler Hamid Hassan.
"Norooz was a truly inspirational leader throughout our amazing journey, Karim scored the runs that mattered in so many games and Hamid took countless crucial wickets."
He said disappointment at missing out on the World Cup to be staged in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, quickly evaporated when they realised ODI status had been accomplished.
Not bad for a national team who played together for the first time eight years ago with many of them learning the game in Pakistani camps housing refugees from the Afghan violence.
Aminzai sees a bright future for Afghanistan cricket.
"We have learnt so much during the Qualifier. Mine is a happy team. We have come to so far so quickly that no one knows where we could end up."
Afghanistan face Scotland Sunday in Benoni east of Johannesburg to decide who finishes fifth while Ireland and Canada play-off for top spot, Kenya and
Netherlands for third, and Namibia and United Arab Emirates for seventh.