Afghanistan have been granted the Associate membership of the ICC to become the 37th country to get that status. The decision was taken by the ICC at its ongoing annual conference, which ends on June 29 in London. The nomination request had been sent by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) last year based on the continuous progress made by Afghanistan, especially in its cricket development.

"Afghanistan is the only country that receives the Associate membership in a short period of time in reward to the efforts Afghanistan made for the promotion of cricket," Dr Noor Muhammad, CEO of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), said on the ACC website. Becoming an Associate would mean higher funding and, importantly, more exposure for the passionate and cricket-starved players from Afghanistan, a war-torn country. So far, the ICC was paying $700,000 in annual funding to Afghanistan, which is now likely to rise to $850,000 based on the Associate status.

Afghanistan became an Affiliate member of the ICC in 2001 when they travelled to Pakistan for their first tour. Languishing at one time in the fifth division of the World Cricket League, Afghanistan won the hearts of global cricket fans when they nearly qualified for the 2011 World Cup, but they lost to Canada and could not surpass Kenya's net run rate in the World Cup qualifiers. Immediately, they were granted the ODI status, valid until 2013.

One of the fascinating tales in cricket (a documentary based on their rise in cricket Out of the Ashes was produced a few years ago), Afghanistan have also featured in the last two editions of the ICC's World Twenty20 (2010 and 2012). They have played ODIs against two Test-playing nations so far, Pakistan and Australia, and despite losing both the matches, players like Hamid Hassan and Mohammad Nabi turned heads with their impressive performances.

Over the last two years, the ACB has undergone organisational restructuring in a bid to provide better leadership and find qualified staff to run cricket administration. They are currently developing their domestic cricket infrastructure, and have signed a two-year deal with the Pakistan Cricket Board for the development of Afghanistan cricket ahead of the 2015 World Cup. The ICC has played a big role in the upliftment of Afghanistan cricket and in April this year, granted $422,000 as part of the targeted assistance programme.

Afghanistan is the eighth country in the Asian region to become an Associate member after Hong Kong (1969), Kuwait (2005), Malaysia (1967), Nepal (1996), Singapore (1974), Thailand (2005) and UAE (1990). "It is a tremendous achievement by Afghanistan, the current administrators have worked very hard to advance Afghanistan's interests and much credit goes to Dr Noor and his team at the Afghanistan Cricket Board," Bandula Warnapura, ACC development manager, said.