Afghanistan delivered a fitting send-off to former captain Nawroz Mangal after being crowned inaugural Desert T20 champions in Dubai.
Spurred on by feverish Afghan support, Mangal and his men romped to a 10-wicket win over Ireland to assert their position as kings of the Associate Nations.
Mangal is a national treasure, having captained the team to becoming the first ICC Affiliate to gain ODI status and qualification to the 2010 World Twenty20.
He was named captain for the day, a move full of sentiment as Mohamad Stanikzai orchestrated proceedings on the pitch but still not without worth considering his previous success at the helm of the team.
It was a popular decision among the Afghans that poured into the Dubai International Stadium, the win only furthering the fairy tale ending to a career that fittingly parallels a Bollywood movie.
Associate cricket’s “big two” secured their place in the final after comfortable semi-final victories earlier in the day, first Afghanistan easing past Oman and then Ireland running riot against Scotland to setup the showpiece.
And once again, Afghanistan fans turned out in force to support their team, something Ireland captain Will Porterfield was delighted to see even if their side were vastly outnumbered in fan support.
Any pleasure Porterfield took in the atmosphere may have quickly evaporated, however, as Ireland were unable to cope with a rampant Afghanistan.
The 15,000 plus crowd gave the match a big game feel, a real boost for the Desert T20 and a reminder of the popularity this Afghanistan team enjoys in UAE, its previous home away from home.
They were rallied ahead of the first ball by a rousing guard of honour for Mangal who becomes chairman of selectors at the end of this tournament.
With Aghanistan fans streaming in and the atmosphere at fever pitch, it gave the final the sense of occasion that the tournament deserved, making the lack of live TV coverage all the more frustrating.
Ireland are no strangers to such situations and taking on the role of party poopers wasn’t the biggest concern for the Irish who were up against it to get to Abu Dhabi in time for their 2:05am flight out of the UAE capital.
But they were set to reach check-in and passport control with time to spare after a woeful start with the bat that left them 41-4 at the end of the powerplay and then 47-6 two overs later.
Ireland looked every bit a team in a hurry and Afghanistan buoyed by their raucous support, playing up to the crowd superbly.
And as Mangal led the team off with Ireland all-out for 71 in 13.2 overs, they had one hand firmly on the trophy.
Any hope of an Irish fightback was quickly dismissed as Mohammad Shahzad (52*) bludgeoned his side to victory in 7.5 overs, Mangal (17*) gleefully watching on at the non-striker’s end.
It was a fitting end to one of the most remarkable of cricketing careers, scripted with all the flourish of a Bollywood writer.
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