Ireland, Afghanistan set to play consistent Test cricket
Both countries will play a combined total of 29 Tests in the next cycle of the Future Tours Programme
Ireland and Afghanistan's desire to play consistent Test cricket is on the verge of fulfillment as both countries are scheduled to play a combined total of 29 Tests in the next cycle of the Future Tours Programme (2019-23).
Ireland will play 16 Tests while Afghanistan are scheduled to play 13, in a calendar which is due to get a final approval at the ICC annual conference in June 2018.
It is a big shot in the arm for both Ireland and Afghanistan, who secured Full Membership in June. Even before the new FTP kicks in, both countries have secured opponents for their maiden Tests. Ireland will host Pakistan in May 2018 in Malahide while Afghanistan are set to travel to India next year with the itinerary likely to be finalised shortly.
Ireland and Afghanistan, along with Zimbabwe, are not part of the Test Championship league, which will commence immediately after the 2019 World Cup. Nonetheless, the new FTP allows both to cut their teeth in Test cricket, albeit at a slower pace compared to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe - the last three entrants into the format. In their first five years Bangladesh played 40 Tests while Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe played 24 Tests each.
Ireland 's roster is somewhat richer in comparison to Afghanistan's in that they play half of the top-nine countries. Ireland are scheduled to play a one-off Test against Australia (2019), Sri Lanka (2020), England (2021) and then host New Zealand and South Africa in 2022. In addition, Ireland will face Afghanistan (5 Tests), Zimbabwe (4 Tests) and Bangladesh (2 Tests).
Both Afghanistan and Zimbabwe will play nearly equal number of Tests at home and away. Ireland will play seven home Tests and nine away while Afghanistan seven at home and six away.
Presently, Australia are the only upper-tier country to play against Afghanistan in the new FTP. Both countries will play a one-off Test in 2020 and 2022. Afghanistan's other opponents will be: Ireland (5 Tests), Zimbabwe (4 Tests), Bangladesh (1 Test) and West Indies (1 Test).
Zimbabwe are scheduled to play 17 Tests in the four-year cycle. Out of the 17, Zimbabwe will play Bangladesh in six Tests followed by four each against Ireland and Afghanistan, two against Sri Lanka and one against West Indies.
Playing fewer Tests and focusing on limited-overs cricket is now part of Zimbabwe Cricket's restructuring plans.Compared to 17 Tests (12 at home) Zimbabwe will play 40 ODIs and 31 T20s during the next FTP.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo