Afghanistan, Ireland get Test status
Afghanistan and Ireland have been approved as Full Members by the ICC, meaning they have become cricket's 11th and 12th Test-playing nations. This was signed off on by the ICC Board in London on Thursday, during the ICC's AGM.
Afghanistan and Ireland's boards had applied to the ICC to have their status upgraded from Associates, and this was put to vote at the meeting on Thursday and unanimously supported.
Ireland first gained ODI status in 2005 after finishing runners-up in the ICC Trophy tournament, which they hosted, to gain their first World Cup berth. Two years later they scored a shock upset of Pakistan on St Patrick's Day in Jamaica and they've never looked back, qualifying for two subsequent World Cups in which they defeated England and West Indies to further press their case that they could maintain competitiveness with other Test nations.
"Test cricket is the pinnacle, it's the best. Not being able to play Tests was the reason cited by some players, who weren't able to achieve that career fulfilment with Ireland, as the reason they went to England," Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom said. "That reason is now removed, we can play Tests ourselves. Who can say for certain that players won't leave in the future, but that can't be the reason for it now."
Afghanistan's rise has been even sharper having first gained ODI status in 2009 with a sixth-place finish at that year's World Cup Qualifier in South Africa. It followed three consecutive promotions over the previous year when they began in Division Five of the World Cricket League. Like Ireland, they have demonstrated the talent to stand toe-to-toe with Full Member nations, securing three straight ODI and T20I series wins over Zimbabwe as well as a win over eventual champion West Indies at the 2016 World T20. Most recently they drew their maiden ODI series in West Indies.
"Another day that we can lock in our history and be proud," Shafiq Stanikzai, ACB chief executive, said, adding there was still more work to be done. "Every achievement is great, but it opens the door to challenges. We'll be hosting our international matches in Greater Noida and Sharjah, there should be a day when we can host inside Afghanistan."
The vote is not just an endorsement of each country's respective on-field talents but a seal of approval for efforts made in recent years to build up their domestic structures. In the last three years, both countries have started a multi-day competition with each receiving first-class designation from the ICC in the last year, a harbinger of Thursday's Full Member affirmation.
Since 2005, both countries have demonstrated their readiness for five-day cricket through their dominance in the Intercontinental Cup, the ICC's first-class competition for Associates. Ireland has won four of the last five editions, with Afghanistan interrupting that streak with a victory in the 2010 tournament. The two sides currently sit in the top-two spots in the current edition of the competition, Afghanistan holding a one-point lead after securing an innings victory at Greater Noida over Ireland earlier this year.
Afghanistan have only lost once in the 20 Intercontinental Cup matches they've played, that coming in the 2013 final to Ireland. Ireland's record is just as enviable, with 24 wins, three losses and 10 draws in 37 matches. But they will now be leaving that competition behind at the end of the year, with the door to Test cricket now wide open to them.