The 2018 ICC World Cup qualifiers come to an end on Sunday with the West Indies taking on Afghanistan in the final at the Harare Sports Club in Zimbabwe.
Both teams will have breathed a big sigh of relief earlier this week having secured qualification to the 2019 World Cup after expending plenty of blood, sweat and tears.
Afghanistan came into the tournament as the red-hot favourites but three straight defeats against Scotland (by 7 wickets), Zimbabwe (by two runs) and Hong Kong (by 30 runs via the D/L method) saw the sword of Damocles hanging over them. However, they turned out to be lucky as other results in Group B went their way, and a win against Nepal (by six wickets) proved sufficient in their bid to reach the Super-Six stage.
In the Super Six stage, the Afghans turned around their fortunes big time and wins over the West Indies (by three wickets), the United Arab Emirates (by five wickets) and Ireland (by five wickets) sealed them a place in the final and more importantly in the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales. Rashid Khan captained the Afghans in the first five matches but regular captain Asghar Stanikzai returned from appendicitis troubles to inspire the team in the last two very important matches for the team.
Two days before - on Wednesday - the West Indies had become the first team to qualify for the World Cup. In Group A, they had beat the United Arab Emirates (by 60 runs), Papua New Guinea (by six wickets), Ireland (by 52 runs) and the Netherlands (by 54 runs via the D/L method) to storm into the Super Sixes. However, after a defeat by Afghanistan (by three wickets) in their first match there, they too started feeling palpitations. Be that as it may, they recovered nicely to beat Zimbabwe (by four wickets) and Scotland (by five runs via the D/L method) in successive matches to finish off the job.
Looking at the manner in which Afghanistan qualified for the tournament proper, there was no surprise that Stanikzai waxed effusive after their match against Ireland on Friday. "I can't express how happy they [fans] will be back home," said Stanikzai. "Everyone likes and supports this game back home.
"We didn't even have a 10% chance to qualify after the first round, but after some support from people back home, the prayers of the people of Afghanistan, all the messages we received, all the messages on social media, it was not just the dream for our guys, but it was the dream of all Afghanistan as well."
The West Indies fielded big players like Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels in this tournament and left nothing to chance, and despite a relatively easy campaign than that of Afghanistan, Caribbean captain Jason Holder was relieved that they had managed to live up to expectations.
"Relieved you know. Coming into this tournament, being here for the first time in a World Cup qualifier, we know what was at stake and I was just really pleased to see how the guys responded. I think it's one of those times when we came really close together as a squad and everybody put in their heads together and tried to do what's best for West Indies cricket and ourselves," Holder said after the team's win against Scotland on Wednesday.