Afghanistan has stayed on course for a place in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 after winning both its fifth round One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Championship against Scotland at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, it was announced by an ICC Media Release.
Afghanistan beat Scotland by seven wickets in the first ODI on Wednesday and then made it two out of two on Friday by winning the second ODI by five wickets.
The double-win means that Afghanistan joins Scotland on 11 points and both sides now share second position on the WCL Championship table.
The top two sides from the WCL Championship will qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. The final two positions in the ICC's flagship event will then be determined at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, which will be staged in New Zealand in 2014.
Afghanistan's final two round matches are against Namibia and Kenya, while Scotland will play Kenya and Ireland. Both sides will need to win all four matches in the remaining rounds to keep their automatic qualification hopes alive for the ICC World Cup 2015.
With so much riding on each match, both Afghanistan and Scotland will be closely following the forthcoming WCL Championship matches between UAE and Ireland, Namibia and Netherlands, and Kenya and Canada to be played over the next month.
A 2-0 win by Ireland will see the table-topper move to an almost unassailable 17 points, and leave four teams in the hunt for the crucial second position on the table.
The UAE and Ireland matches will also be live streamed on the ICC website www.icc-cricket.com.
Reverting to the Afghanistan-Scotland ODIs, former captain Nawroz Mangal stole the limelight in his side's seven wickets victory on Wednesday, while it was a total team effort on Friday that steered Afghanistan to a five wickets win.
On Wednesday, Nawroz stroked an unbeaten 112 off 96 balls with eight fours and six sixes, as Afghanistan achieved the 200-run target in the 34th over. In the second ODI, contributions by captain Mohammad Nabi (51), Mohammad Shahzad (48), Rahmat Shah (35), Nawroz Mangal (30) and Samiullah Shenwari (30 not out) helped the Asian side reach the 260-run target with eight balls and five wickets to spare.
The star of Scotland's total of 259 for nine was opener Kyle Coetzer, who stroked a brilliant 136-ball 133, including 14 fours and two sixes.
Afghanistan captain Mohammed Nabi was delighted with his team's performance, saying: "Sharjah is very good for batting and the boys played really well. The crowd was also brilliant so that really kept us going.
"We've got some very important games ahead and if we lose one or two games than we may not qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup. We'll be watching UAE and Ireland closely."
Afghanistan coach and former Pakistan Test fast bowler Kabir Khan was particularly pleased with his batsmen. "Qualification is now looking good and we've worked hard for the last three months to achieve this. It's paid off very well and I can see a change in the boys - a coolness in their batting that wasn't there before," he said.
"We are now in the game - up there with the top teams.Â We know that there is little margin for error and we have to work hard to qualify for the ICC World Cup, which we will do," he concluded.
Scotland captain Gordon Drummond was disappointed with the result. Speaking after the second ODI, he said: "Playing Afghanistan in their back yard is always going to be difficult. The score of 259 was below par today and 280 would have been a far more challenging score."
Drummond said that his side will be keeping a close eye on the forthcoming matches. "We want to make the top two in the Championship but obviously realise that four victories are now needed. We'll see what happens in the UAE v Ireland matches next week and keep working hard and being positive," he said.
Afghanistan and Scotland will now face each other in the four-day first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup 2011-2013 encounter at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi. Afghanistan is the defending champion of this event, while Scotland finished second.
Drummond said his side was looking forward to this match. "Afghanistan is obviously used to the conditions here in Sharjah and they were fearless from the start.Â They take chances and ride luck but we can't hide that they've been better than us. Abu Dhabi is a totally different wicket so we'll have to see what happens in the four-day match," he opined.