Now the Caribbean beckons for Afghanistan
Afghanistan could scarcely have hoped for a more favourable draw in the group stage of the World Twenty20 qualifier in Dubai in February, where they will find themselves taking on Ireland, Scotland and the USA.
The other, rather tougher, group obviously comprises The Netherlands, Canada, Kenya and the UAE.
With the top two from each group progressing to a ‘Super Four' stage and two places on offer for the main event in the Caribbean in May, Nowrooz Mangal's men – who recently carried all before them in the ACC Twenty20 Cup – must have a very good chance of reaching their first-ever major global tournament.
Ireland will naturally start as favourites, having established a position as the leading Associate nation in all forms of the game, but it will be recalled that the Afghans pulled off a shock win against them in the World Cup qualifier in South Africa in April. Afghanistan are probably stronger now than they were then, and Twenty20 is the format which arguably suits them best.
Afghanistan also beat Scotland twice over 50 overs in South Africa, and the Scots don't have an impressive record in Twenty20 matches. And then there's the USA, currently ranked 22nd in the ICC's own Associate/Affiliate rankings and controversially parachuted into this tournament on grounds which have more to do with marketing than with cricket.
The outcome of the other group is much harder to predict. The Dutch earned their top ranking by reaching the final of the 2008 World Twenty20 qualifier, and then caused the sensation of that tournament with their opening-day defeat of England.
But Canada, with the explosive talent of Rizwan Cheema and an experienced, well-balanced attack, and Kenya are both dangerous opponents, and Peter Drinnen and his side will not need reminding that they lost to the UAE in the group stages of the World Cup qualifier in April. Taking part in this tournament as hosts, the Emiratis will be looking to make the most of their home advantage.
Whoever emerges from this group will then need to beat at least one of the two sides from Group A, and probably both, in order to be sure of a place in the Caribbean. The converse is, of course, also true: should form prevail and Ireland and Afghanistan reach the Super Four, they will need to win at least one of, and probably both, their remaining games if they are to be certain of progressing further.
It is curious that the groupings for this event have slipped into the public domain almost unnoticed. Such things are normally the subject of an ICC Media release, but this time it seems that they were simply posted on their website without any fanfare or hullalaboo.
There is no suggestion of anything underhand: the rationale for the groups, which is based on results at the last such tournament in Belfast in 2008 and current one-day rankings for the three countries which did not take part in that, is explained on the ICC website and is fully consistent with normal ICC practice.
Even so, one cannot help wondering why the draw didn't get the full media treatment, especially when it gives Afghanistan such a clear chance of reaching yet another remarkable milestone.