London: Ireland and Afghanistan were awarded Test match status on Thursday, taking the number of countries playing at the pinnacle of cricket from 10 to 12 in a decision described as “fantastic” and “remarkable”. Both countries were confirmed as full members after a unanimous vote at an International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting during its annual conference in London. Now Ireland and Afghanistan’s men’s teams will be eligible to play five-day Test cricket, widely regarded as the sport’s supreme format.
Bangladesh were previously the last country to be granted Test status in 2000. But Afghanistan and Ireland have now joined an exclusive club that also includes founder members Australia and England, who played the first Test match at Melbourne in 1877, South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
“It’s fantastic news for all involved with Irish cricket and I’d like to thank the ICC and the members for the positive outcome,” said Cricket Ireland Chief Executive Warren Deutrom in a statement.
Ireland captain William Porterfield added: “It’s wonderful news for all of Irish cricket, with all the players already talking about playing in a Test match for the first time.
“We’ve all played in World Cups and achieved some memorable results along the way, but to play in a Test would be a bit special.”
Ireland international Gary Wilson tweeted: “Let’s not forget the tireless volunteers who worked so many years to get us where we are. “Men who played for free and managed for free…As well as for us, this is for them.”
Meanwhile, Afghanistan Cricket Board Chief Executive Shafiq Stanikzai said: “For a nation like Afghanistan it is a huge and remarkable achievement, the entire nation will be celebrating.
“Afghanistan cricket has gone from strength to strength and we dared to dream that this would happen and today it has become a reality.”
Afghanistan international Mohammad Nabi took to his own Twitter feed to say: “Finally our hard work pays off and the dream of @ICC Full-Membership comes true. Can’t control my sentiments.”
Cricket has been played in Ireland for nearly 200 years but it wasn’t until 1969 that they made the rest of the world game take true notice when they bowled out the West Indies for just 25 at Sion Mills in a match recorded by television.
Ireland have since established themselves during the course of several World Cups, recording one-day international wins over Pakistan, the West Indies and England.
Afghanistan’s progress has been even more rapid, with many Afghans’ first contact with cricket taking place during the 1980s and 1990s, as refugees fled to Pakistan to escape the Soviet invasion.
The ICC announced the establishment of cricket’s 11th and 12th Test nations with a statement via its Twitter feed saying: “@ACBofficials and @Irelandcricket confirmed as Full Members after a unanimous vote at ICC Full Council meeting.
ICC Chief Executive David Richardson paid tribute to the efforts of the two new Test countries.
“I’d like to congratulate Afghanistan and Ireland on their Full Membership status which is the result of their dedication to improving performance both off and on the field resulting in the significant development and growth of cricket in their respective countries,” said Richardson.
“Both have clearly demonstrated they meet the new criteria and as such have made the progression to Full Membership,” the former South Africa wicket-keeper added.
Last year, Afghanistan’s national team shifted its base from Sharjah in the UAE to Noida, Delhi, while India’s former batsman Lalchand Rajput replaced Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq as their national team coach.
Questions remain, however, about how well Afghanistan and Ireland, now coached by former New Zealand off-spinner John Bracewell, will do in the game’s longest format.
Bangladesh famously floundered for their first decade while New Zealand took 26 years to win their first Test. — AFP