Ireland dashes Canada's cricket dreams at qualifying tourney

DUBAI — The Canadian Press

Ireland ended Canada's dream of qualifying for the Twenty20 World Cup on Thursday, defeating the Canadians by 10 runs in preliminary final action at a qualifying tournament.

Top-seeded Afghanistan, meanwhile, advanced to the final and qualified for its second consecutive Twenty20 World Cup with a 47-run win over Namibia.

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The impoverished South Asian nation will now travel to Sri Lanka later this year to play in the Twenty20 World Cup. Afghanistan lost both of its group matches, to India and South Africa, at the 2010 edition.

One other spot is still up for grabs at the 16-team qualifying tournament featuring ICC associate and affiliate countries. No. 7 Namibia will play either No. 2 Ireland or the No. 3 Netherlands, who meet Friday.

The winner out of that threesome advances to Saturday's final against Afghanistan and books its ticket to Sri Lanka.

Sixth-seeded Canada will play No. 5 Scotland on Friday with fifth place on the line. The Netherlands defeated Scotland by three wickets Thursday.

The Canadians won the toss and elected to bat but could do little damage against the Irish bowling.

Opener Hiral Patel was removed in the first over for zero. Ruvindu Gunasekera, Canada's best batsman at the tournament, led the team with 26 but only two others reached double figures in a 106-8 innings.

Ireland's Max Sorensen and George Dockrell took three wickets apiece.

The Irish needed just 9.3 overs to reach their victory target with openers Paul Stirling not out at 61 and William Porterfield at 42 in a 109-0 total.

The Afghans were inspired by the bowling of Dawlat Zadran who took two of his three wickets in the first over.

The win marks another milestone for Afghanistan, which in the past five years has been one of the most inspiring stories in sport.

Made up of war refugees who learned the sport in Pakistan, the team has gone from playing an event against Japan, Botswana, Singapore and Jersey among other lesser-known teams to making its one-day international debut against Pakistan last month.

“It's really a big day for us,” Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal said through a translator. “Coming to this tournament as defending champion, it put a little pressure on the team, especially in the shorter format of 20 overs where it's anybody's game. The boys did well and they proved they are deserving winners, and a deserving team to go to the World Cup.”

Afghanistan had been stung by its exclusion from the Asia Cup, complaining it should have been allowed to play alongside Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India.

“If you look at the rankings, we are above the West Indies at the moment but we have to prove it when we play them,” said Kabir Khan, who returned to coach the team after a two-year absence in the UAE. “We have to prepare well. We have to shape up the boys.

“We want to have a good tournament and give full and tough matches to the opposition. If we win one or two, I don't mind. But if we lose, we want to lose giving 100 per cent.”

The team's success has helped cricket replace football as the national sport, and even the Taliban have come out in favour of the game — saying its frequent breaks mean it doesn't interfere with prayer times in the Muslim nation. Cricket clubs have sprung up across the country and the government is building new grounds to keep up with the growing demand from 70,000 club cricketers.

As in Pakistan and India, business slows to a crawl when the national team plays, and the players have become celebrities. Crowds line the streets when the team returns home, and a government minister and several legislators even flew into Sharjah to attend the ODI against Pakistan, which Afghanistan lost by seven wickets.

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